The hearings of several foreign law firms accused by the Cambodian Bar Association
of illegally practicing law will begin on December 19, a municipal court judge said.
"On Friday [the Municipal Court] will open the hearing," said judge Hing
Thirith. "I cannot say who is right and who is wrong. I am inspecting the case."
Four law firms, Clough Thuraisingham International, Dirksen Flipse Doran and Le,
Imtec International Consulting Cambodia and Tilleke and Gibbins and Associates Ltd.
are named in the suits, said Hing Thirith.
Ky Tech, president of the Bar Association, said that the Bar was seeking $50,000
in compensation from each firm.
"They opened law offices illegally and they are not registered with the Bar
Association," he said. The organization originally filed its complaint against
them on January 26, 2000, said Tech.
The law offices had varying reactions to news of the scheduled hearings.
One firm denied they were involved in the case, another said it might not attend
Bretton Sciaroni, partner in Tilleke and Gibbons and Associates, voiced surprise
at the Municipal Court's claim his firm was being sued. He said he had already been
cleared of all charges.
"The case filed against me by the Cambodian Bar Association a number of years
ago was dismissed last May by the prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on
the grounds of insufficient evidence," he said in a statement.
Martin Desautels, managing director of DFDL, said he could not disclose whether his
firm would appear in court on December 19. He declined to comment on the case citing
discussions with the Bar Association.
CTI said they would appear in court on December 19, but declined to comment. Imtec
International Consulting Cambodia could not be reached for comment.
Chiv Songhak, board member of the Bar Association and director of Cambodia International
Law Firm said that foreign lawyers are only permitted to work as consultants and
must not represent clients in court.
"If [foreigners] want to run businesses they have to join with Khmer lawyers
[and] the Bar Association will provide them with licenses," he said.
Songhak claimed if the Bar Association wins the case and the firms continue to operate,
their staff could face prison sentences.
Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for the Cambodian People's Party, said the party had consulted
with foreign lawyers in the past. But he said he was uncertain about whether the
lawsuits had valid legal grounds, particularly in the light of Cambodia's pending
membership in the WTO. Under WTO rules, foreign lawyers can be granted privileges
to practice in foreign countries.
"We have to think about the WTO," he said. "When I see the complaint
I'll see if it's got legal grounds or not."
On November 25, authorities raided the Immigration and Visa Law office operated by
two Americans. The office is also being sued by the Bar Association for failing to
register with them, Ky Tech said at the time.