Foreign lawyers who don’t register with the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) are trampling the rights of local lawyers, the body’s president said in a statement on Friday.
The Bar Association has accused foreign lawyers of operating illegally for over a decade, even pursuing unsuccessful lawsuits against firms like DFDL, and on Friday it accused foreign lawyers who have not joined the bar of undermining the profession locally.
“Until present time, besides foreign lawyers working at ECCC, there is no foreign lawyer having professional legal rights to work in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Bun Hun, the BAKC’s president, wrote. “The legal violation of those foreigners has been destroying professionalism of lawyers in Cambodia.”
Many foreign firms operate as legal advisers or consultants, often working with foreign investors entering Cambodia, and several unregistered foreign lawyers maintained yesterday that their work is legal because they don’t handle court cases.
However, Samnang Lim, a partner with law firm DBLS, said that foreigners failing to join the bar was a problem for the Kingdom, adding that there is no mechanism to prevent lawyers from practising illegally in Cambodia.
“I don’t know why the government doesn’t want to strictly enforce the law,” he said. “Those who are practising illegally are taking away jobs. It’s not the right thing to do.”
After a similar call to crack down on “anarchy” among foreign lawyers last April, then-US ambassador William Todd in April warned that under the World Trade Organization, foreign legal advisers can work in Cambodia in association with local law firms.
By preventing investors from working with their companies of choice, the BAKC was discouraging investment, he said.
A lawyer working at a foreign-owned firm, speaking on condition of anonymity yesterday, said that most services that they provide are identical to those of accounting firms and don’t require bar membership.
He accused the BAKC of being combative and unwilling to sit down with foreign lawyers and explain specifically what it wants “If they want to protect their patch, they need to define what their patch is,” he said.
He also said that international clients seek a level of professionalism that some Cambodian lawyers may not meet.
The BAKC has come under fire itself, with the International Bar Association lambasting it in a September report for endemic corruption, bribery and political influence.
The report also noted that lawyers and judges had to pay bribes of up to $50,000 to enter the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions.
The BAKC has since denied the accusations and insisted that the report relied on outdated hearsay.
Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda