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PM and Kingdom’s lawyers fund prison meeting rooms

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A guard watches over the gate outside Prey Sar prison in 2009. Tracey Shelton

PM and Kingdom’s lawyers fund prison meeting rooms

The Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia has unveiled an ongoing project to build consultation rooms at prisons across the Kingdom in a move welcomed by civil society organisations.

Its construction committee head Lem Chanlida said the $140,000 nationwide initiative had been jointly funded by the Bar and Prime Minister Hun Sen, with each putting in $70,000. The funds will be spent to build attorney-client meeting rooms in 24 locations.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen and the head of the Bar Association thought about this issue and decided to build at least one office for lawyers to work with their clients in confidence."

“If a lawyer has no room to meet properly with a client who is detained in prison, how will they feel?” she asked.

Chanlida said the government and the Bar sought to ensure the dignity of lawyers, especially in rural provinces. She said in some locations, if lawyers wanted to meet their clients, they need to do so under a tree on prison grounds.

Rights group Adhoc’s spokesman Soeung Sen Karona praised the project, citing his experience as a former lawyer. He said it is difficult for lawyers to meet their clients at prisons, where they were always observed by officials.

“There is no privacy, so it makes the lawyer and client feel that nothing is secret. But, if there is an office, it will make the lawyer feel calm,” he said.

Strick confidence

Yung Phanit, a member of Cambodia’s Bar, said the Bar Association has 4,400 lawyers, including 200 lawyers who are willing to defend poor clients nationwide.

At many provincial and municipal courts throughout the Kingdom, he said, there is just one meeting room with at least five lawyers waiting to use it.

Chanlida said the construction project started at least six months ago, with offices completed in Takeo province.

The offices in Kampot and Svay Rieng provinces will be finished soon, she said, while the building is underway in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang provinces.

She said the rooms are 4x5 metres and have a bathroom, air-conditioning and furniture. Each facility costs about $5,000 to $6,000 and has a two-meter garden around it.

“The lawyer can interview the client in the office in strict confidence as no one will hear them."

“But we need to think about the safety, too, so the rooms will be installed with a two-way mirror so that prison guards can see in case there is a problem for the lawyer,” Chanlida said.

She added that the office is assigned to serve the investigating judge who is pursuing a case with a prosecutor. “It means that the investigating judge can use the office too,” she said.

Department of Prisons spokesman Sorn Keo told The Post on Monday that he also sees the project in a positive light.

“The reason behind this construction is to facilitate lawyer-detainee dialogue as the latter is undergoing punishment at the prison and can discuss matters freely and in strict confidence,” he said.

Veteran defence lawyer Lor Kimgech said prison officials usually permit him to meet a client, but there is no room or privacy. He has already seen the impact of having designated lawyer rooms.

“Prey Sar Prison has one already and it is good to have it,” he said.

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