Come October 16, lawyers across the country are set to elect the new president of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC).
In total, 1,355 of them will exercise their voting rights to choose between Soun Visal and Sam Sokong who are vying for the two-year term presidency at the 12th session of the BAKC – one of the most prominent judicial bodies in the Kingdom.
Speaking to The Post on October 4, Visal and Sokong shared a similar aspiration. They both want to reform the body and eliminate corruption.
The current BAKC president, Sam Visal, 53, is hopeful of running for the second and last of a maximum two-term limit.
With 19 years experience as a lawyer, Visal encouraged others of his ilk to follow moral codes to reduce injustice and corruption. He said the BAKC can assist the courts with training, monitoring and punishing any lawyer who is indifferent to legal procedures.
“In developed countries, in order to eliminate such indifference, lawyers must be barred from meeting a judge secretly. Negotiations under the table cannot happen. This will be included in my proposed reform which will reduce such matters,” he said.
During the next term, Visal said, he would discuss with the Justice Ministry to eliminate of the middlemen to make it easier for lawyers to defend clients.
When asked about corruption within the association, Visal denied "a rumour" claiming prospective lawyers have to fork out $20,000 in order to be allowed to practice by the bar.
He claimed the rumour has existed since the inception of the association.
“Anyone encountering this problem must report it, so the bar association can find a solution. We do not support corruption."
“We monitor all problems. In the past, this kind of issue is hard to monitor because the victims did not cooperate with us. Whenever we met with them directly, they never talked to us,” he said.
Visal said he is seeking support from Prime Minister Hun Sen who is also a member of the BAKC.
According to him, Hun Sen asked the association to train more lawyers in the provinces.
“I require everybody’s support. I cannot share my strategies, but they are legal and will not cause any problems. The prime minister has asked us to train lawyers in the rural areas and help the poor. We will work to accomplish his request,” he said.
Sokong, 41, who has 15 years of experience as a lawyer, was a member of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party defence team and supported activists since the 2013 election.
He, too, is hoping for a corruption-free environment in the Kingdom’s legal system.
“We will punish any member who commits bribery or work as brokers to commit acts of corruption. We have procedures, and we will report to the relevant institutions to take measures against the corrupt lawyers,” he said.
“When I am elected, I will lead the bar association with transparency and accountability. We will investigate any wrongdoings whilst adhering to the association's legal charter. The BAKC will guarantee a fair and transparent legal process,” he said.
Furthermore, Sokong said he is not campaigning as a demagogue.
“I don’t want to campaign based on vote buying, political parties or intimidation."
"I campaign using democratic methods by issuing important guidance so that all members can make informed decisions,” he said.
As part of his campaign, he promised to reward lawyers who work on pro-bono cases – helping the poor and the powerless – with funding that he would request from the government and external stakeholders.