Having met with relevant institutions, civil society organisations and legal experts on several occasions regarding the new legal aid programme for vulnerable citizens, the Ministry of Justice is continuing to meet stakeholders to ensure a mutual understanding of the development and challenges of the project.
Ministry spokesman Chin Malin spoke at a workshop on Thursday entitled “Legal Aid in Cambodia –Development and Challenges”.
“Today we have gathered all stakeholders and relevant parties to discuss the challenges and how to address them. Sometimes, our citizens do not receive justice because they lack legal assistance."
“Legal aid includes education. We want people to understand legal issues. We will provide legal advice to the people when they are in conflict with the law or have unresolved disputes. And when they come to court, we want poor people to have professional representation financed by legal aid,” Malin said.
He also said that through legal aid experts mediating disputes, conflicts could be resolved without going to court.
Malin said the ministry will prepare a legal framework in preparation for a detailed policy for legal aid. He said Cambodia does not yet provide legal aid but several countries do.
“So far, we have laid down the foundations. Today we are asking for further input from relevant parties in order for us to formulate comprehensive policies and respond to the needs of citizens in a way that fits the context of Cambodian society."
“Currently, there are about five lawyers stationed on standby at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, no matter how remote the provinces they have to visit,” he said.
Malin said the ministry has so far been allocated a legal aid budget of about 1.2 billion riel (about $300,000) for this year. This figure, he said, was still too small.
He said that of 1,500 lawyers in the Kingdom, about 500 had volunteered to join the legal aid project.
Khlok Dara, the head of the Department of International Relations and Development Partnership at the ministry, said Thursday’s workshop was intended to exchange opinions and information on the programme.
“We want to have input from all relevant stakeholders. The main problem we face is related to budget because the people we need to help are the poor,” he said.
Transparency International Cambodia executive director Preap Kol, who attended the workshop, expressed his approval of the legal aid policy. However, he said that although the project is well-intentioned, the number of lawyers currently working on it was not enough to meet everyone’s needs.
“Another challenge is the effect of corruption. Often, poor people can lose a case even if they are not wrong from a legal standpoint."
“Wealthy people use their money to harness power and exert influence through their good connections. The weak can easily become victims of injustice,” he said.
Preah Sihanouk provincial deputy prosecutor Kieng Sun Tharo, who also attended the workshop, said the most challenging aspect for the lawyers is travelling so far to meet people, especially from Preah Sihanouk province. It costs a lot of money, he said.
“The practising of legal procedures is not a problem, but the difficult issue is money when we go on missions,” Sun Tharo said.