Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the establishment of a volunteer group of 30 lawyers to defend poor women who cannot afford to pay for representation, the government’s chief lawyer said on Tuesday.
Ky Tech said the new volunteer legal aid team would be under Hun Sen’s direct supervision and would not receive any salary from the government. However, the lawyers would receive expenses when designated to help women in rural areas, he said.
Ky Tech said the reason for Hun Sen’s decision was to show the government wanted to help poor people, especially widows, who did not have the financial means to seek legal advice.
“In this first step, the prime minister advised me to set up a team consisting of 30 people. I am considering the candidates based on their qualifications and experience. I am especially looking for female lawyers."
“This group of lawyers will not work as state lawyers – they are professional lawyers who will be selected to be part of the prime minister’s legal team. They will not receive a government salary, and their primary duties will be to assist Prime Minister Hun Sen,” Ky Tech said.
He particularly wanted to make clear that the establishment of the new legal team was not a waste of the national budget. The funds will come from the prime minister’s personal budget and will cover living and food expenses, with additional money for lawyers on missions in rural areas, Tech said.
‘Unpaid volunteer lawyers better’
He added that the women targeted to receive legal aid from the new team included poor women who were victims of land grabs by powerful people and underprivileged people who had been sued by powerful individuals. He said he would try to set up the new legal team as soon as possible.
Independent legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said the creation of the legal aid team was a positive step but, in order to truly help poor people, the volunteer lawyers should not get paid by other clients.
“According to my experience, volunteer lawyers should not get paid at all, because if some clients pay them and some can’t pay them, the lawyers will pay less attention to the poor clients,” he said.
Soeung Sen Karuna, spokesman for human rights group Adhoc, told The Post on Tuesday that, while he supported the idea, the volunteer lawyers should not be allowed to be involved in politics.
He said he did not want them influenced by political power.
“We want a process that allows legal institutions to help poor women but we do not want it to be involved with influential political leaders, because we are aware of the judicial system in Cambodia. It has been criticised by the public for not being fair due to intervention from powerful individuals and political parties."
“In order to provide true justice equally to all citizens, the Kingdom needs a judicial system which is a powerful, independent and neutral entity under democratic principles, and it should not be corrupted or under the influence of any powerful individuals,” Sen Karuna said.