Ministry of Justice and the European Union (EU) experts have finalised the draft policy to provide legal aid to marginalised groups in rural areas in the Kingdom.
The ministry and the EU completed the draft during their Technical Support for Legal Aid Policy Development workshop on August 31.
Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the legal aid policy was created to help channel legal assistance to the disabled, women, children, and ethnic minorities.
“We will provide [free] legal advice and lawyers to any person who cannot afford such service. This will ensure justice is served to those who are in need,” Malin said.
He said if people are entangled in litigations and do not have access to legal assistance, they could lose their case in court.
“When no one helps them, they will be under pressure [because] they do not know how to solve the case and could commit some inappropriate act like using violence. So legal aid helps to maintain harmony in society,” Malin added.
The ministry is working along with the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC), to provide voluntary lawyers and manage the budget to carry out legal aid as well.
And the funding for this has been increasing annually – from 200 million riel ($49,000) last year to 800 million riel this year. Next year, the budget is expected to be raised to 1,200 million riel, he said.
“The BAKC assigns lawyers while the ministry pays for their services, such as for transportation and food,” he said, adding that nearly 500 lawyers are currently working on a voluntary basis to provide legal support.
“It is social work, so the ministry grants the money to encourage them,” Malin said.
However, he cautioned that the service cannot be sustained indefinitely. “Due to a shortage of funds and the few lawyers who volunteer, this service remains limited. People do not always perform volunteer work. Someday lawyers could face economic hardships and they could stop [providing such services].
“Therefore, it may not be sustainable in the future, but to ensure it is, we created the Legal Aid National Policy,” he said.
For almost a year, experts from the ministry and EU studied models in various countries, especially from the region, to develop and fine-tune the draft policy.
Claudia de la Fuente, the Rule of Law Unit's head at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the policy is vital for Cambodia and inputs from various stakeholders will be included in the draft.
“I believe the policy will move in a positive way with the actual participation of relevant parties and their voices will be heard,” she said.
Simone Pieri, who is part of the EU’s delegation, welcomed the draft policy.
“Although Cambodia offers legal advice in its judicial system, it lacks the framework to give legal aid effectively to the vulnerable people,” he said.
He said the EU wants to see the rule of law implemented so people have access to justice, as it is crucial to maintaining social stability in the country.