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Over 2,000 receive free legal aid

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BAKC president Ly Chantola speaks during a press conference on Friday. Heng Chivoan

Over 2,000 receive free legal aid

The Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) announced that over a period of 100 days they had provided free legal representation in 2,167 cases on behalf of poor people.

The BAKC further noted that between those cases and free consultations or legal advice for the poor, they had assisted a total of 3,658 clients at municipal and provincial courts across the country.

At a press conference on February 19 detailing their achievements, BAKC president Ly Chantola said: “As volunteer lawyers, we defend cases for these clients not just out of a sense of duty but because it is a part of our profession’s ethical code, established by law.”

However, Chantola also acknowledged that there were some irregularities with a handful of individual lawyers who volunteered to help the poor who may not have done so to the best of their professional abilities.

He said the bar association has mechanisms to review lawyers’ conduct and determine if they need additional training or instruction on how to conduct themselves after taking on a case or if punishment was warranted.

Chantola said the bar has recruited 300 hundred volunteer lawyers across the country since November last year and that the group’s mission is to represent people in court who are too poor to hire lawyers. Of the 3,658 clients, 312 were women and 787 were minors.

He said that this year, the government would increase the budget for providing legal assistance to the poor by two billion riel ($500,000). These funds are administered by the bar, which reimburses the lawyers for their work in order to ensure equal justice for the poor.

Chantola also said that in order to expand access to these free legal services, the BAKC is requesting that more of the bar’s members participate in this programme.

He noted that the BAKC is presently studying how to provide more incentives to volunteer lawyers to help society through this programme and other proposed initiatives.

Soeung Sen Karuna, the senior investigative official for rights group Adhoc, said in the past Adhoc used to hear complaints from some people about the poor quality of legal defence provided by volunteer lawyers.

“The BAKC president’s reforms are good and some lawyers do follow good professional ethics, but there are some who think mostly about their own interests and that’s why they are careless when representing poor people,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, welcomed the BAKC president’s advice for lawyers to follow their professional code of ethics when working on cases for the poor.

“I would ask that the volunteer lawyers defend these cases with transparency and without discrimination. We know that there are a limited number of lawyers available and that there are a lot of people who need help. Despite that, it should always be done effectively, because equal access to competent legal representation is required by the Cambodian legal system,” he said.

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