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Lawyers seek right to meet arrested clients within 24 hours

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Interior minister Sar Kheng and BAKC president Suon Visal met on Tuesday. Sar Kheng Facebook Page

Lawyers seek right to meet arrested clients within 24 hours

The Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) president, Suon Visal, has requested Minister of Interior Sar Kheng to help lawyers fulfil their profession smoothly by permitting police to allow lawyers to meet their clients when they are arrested.

The request was made as a delegation from the BAKC visited Sar Kheng at the ministry on Tuesday. According to the minister’s Facebook post, Visal said some police stations allowed lawyers to meet suspects but many others were uncooperative.

“Suon Visal also requested Samdech Kralahom [Sar Kheng] to find a possibility to have a lawyer present at every police station in order to give legal consultation, and to avoid problems when sending a case to court,” it said.

In response, Sar Kheng said the ministry had delegated the task to secretary of state Bun Honn to assign lawyers to district and provincial administrations with high crime rates. The presence of a lawyer at those administrations would help avoid procedural errors.

BAKC deputy secretary Liv Sovanna told The Post on Tuesday that criminal procedure allows lawyers to meet their clients after 24 hours of the arrest. But if a lawyer is present at the police station and allowed to meet the detainee, the lawyer could give legal consultation and help the police to build a case.

Sovanna said: “At that stage, a suspect’s answers and evidence would be more useful if there was a lawyer present. Lawyers can assist the police. For instance, they can advise [police] what evidence to collect and what the charge should be.”

He said there was a conflict between the law on the status of lawyers in Cambodia and criminal procedure. The former says lawyers can meet clients at any place and time, but the latter says they can only meet clients 24 hours after the arrest. Lawyers find this restricting, Sovanna said.

“Practically, some police allow lawyers to accompany suspects during questioning. But many others did not allow this because they think that lawyers have no rights and that they only have the rights after 24 hours of arrest,” he said.

One lawyer, Ouk Vandeth, told The Post on Tuesday that Article 98 of the Criminal Code should be amended to let lawyers meet their clients immediately after an arrest.

“It depends on the Ministry of Justice and the National Police to consider whether the presence of a lawyer within 24 hours of arrest presents difficulties for them. But I think when there is a presence of a lawyer in their procedure, their work should be stronger because the lawyer is a witness.

“Some clients claimed they were beaten by police to get answers. We want to avoid hearing this claim, that’s why we want to work with the police in order to ensure that police are not wrong in their enforcement,” Vandeth said.

National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun told The Post on Tuesday that police follow the criminal procedure. For criminal cases, police will not allow lawyers to meet with suspects until 24 hours after the arrest because police are busy questioning suspects to find their accomplices. But for light crimes, police always coordinate with lawyers, he said.

“We are not narrow-minded about the cooperation in protecting the rights of the suspect and the contribution of lawyers to make police operations more effective. Honestly speaking, the police’s role is to arrest suspects, while a lawyer’s role is to protect them. So, it’s hard to say that lawyers will help the police because they come only to find a way to help their clients,” he said.

“But we are not objecting to this proposal. We will follow the leaders’ permission and the law.”

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the article in question could be amended if there is a request. But the amendment would go through a consultation with lawyers and relevant legal enforcement institutions.

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