Ly Chantola, president of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC), has outlined the body’s direction for 2024, with a primary focus on out-of-court dispute resolution in line with the priorities laid out by Prime Minister Hun Manet and the Ministry of Justice. The intention is to enhance the prestige of the legal profession, while encouraging active engagement by all BAKC partners.

Chantola conveyed the plans during the October 16 closing ceremony of the BAKC’s 28th General Assembly.

He explained that next year’s first initiative will involve a comprehensive exploration and discussion regarding the establishment of mechanisms that will increase the legal services offered to the public by the association. This move aims to expand the reach of legal professional services that would lead to an increase in out-of-court dispute resolutions.

“We will undertake these measures in support of the strong emphasis placed on out-of-court resolutions by the prime minister and justice minister Koeut Rith,” he said.

He added that 14 additional initiatives are scheduled for implementation in 2024. These include a continued focus on the welfare of senior lawyers and the creation of programmes aimed at facilitating collaboration between young lawyers entering the profession and the government entities that are engaged in judicial reform.

He explained that the BAKC will collaborate with the Ministry of Interior to enhance the performance of lawyers within both the capital and provincial administrations. Additionally, a grassroots project will be launched to educate village chiefs as well as commune, town and district authorities about the role of lawyers and share legal knowledge.

“I am committed to surmounting all challenges in implementing these new policies and mission, in order to guide the association towards fresh accomplishments. Our aim is to enhance the excellence and standing of the legal profession, reinforce internal cohesion, uphold the dignity and ethics of dedicated lawyers, safeguard the interests of legal practitioners and raise awareness regarding their vital role in society,” he said.

Chantola invited an increase in proactive engagement from his colleagues towards implementing the new initiatives. He suggested that BAKC members contribute articles for publication in the Law Bulletin, volunteer to provide legal assistance to those in need, take part in expert committees and volunteer as speakers at association events.

Addressing the closing ceremony, justice minister Koeut Rith noted that considering both Cambodian traditions and the present state of the judiciary, there is a need to develop comprehensive legal mechanisms which are dedicated to resolving disputes.

The minister outlined three primary advantages: reducing the backlog of court cases, providing dispute resolution services through mobile units for localised mediation – prioritising swifter resolutions – and fostering peace and harmony within communities by promptly addressing disputes at the local level.

“In recognition of the prevailing situation in Cambodia, the prime minister made the decision to establish an alternative dispute resolution authority to complement the existing system,” he said.

He added that a royal decree introduced a legal mechanism, distinct from the one previously employed for dispute resolution. Under the new system, agreements reached to resolve disputes – which are documented in the presence of mediation officers – will hold substantial evidentiary value, equivalent to the official court records or final judgments.

“This will be the sole method to address disputes, ensuring they do not recur,” he added.

Liv Sovanna, secretary-general of the BAKC, reported that the association’s lawyers represented 9,000 individuals, including over 700 women and nearly 3,000 children, in 5,806 cases during the past year. Additionally, the bar association provided legal guidance in 796 cases to underprivileged members of the public.

Court of Appeal prosecutor general Ouk Savuth noted that the ministry had consistently ensured timely coordination between the Appeal Court and all court levels, and worked closely with the BAKC, particularly in the defence of the disadvantaged in criminal and juvenile cases.

Sovanna added that more than 5,000 such cases were handled in the past year.

“I extend my gratitude to the BAKC and all of the lawyers who have diligently participated in defending cases in front of the Court of Appeal. They exhibited a strong sense of responsibility and punctuality, even in the face of inconveniences. Overall, the outcomes were commendable,” he said.