Legal aid policy and regulation

Public policies are a system of laws, regulatory measures, and plans of action implemented by the government to ensure that its functions are performed predictably and consistently.1 Policies typically outline the guiding principles of an operation; meanwhile, regulations set procedural expectations. Currently, there are no official public policies governing access to legal aid in Cambodia.2 While legal assistance for the impoverished is mentioned in Cambodia’s legislation, such as in the Code of Criminal Procedure, there are no policy or regulatory guidelines for how government-mandated legal aid should be accessed or monitored.

Photo of courtroom by Cambodia Center for Human Rights (CCHR). License under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

However, there are plans to draft a policy on legal aid in 2019. This goal of this policy, which will be drafted by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) with consultation by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is to ensure that legal assistance is provided systematically to those that require it.3 The MoJ has gathered experts from relevant Cambodian institutions and organisations in order to prepare the legal framework for a legal aid policy during March 2019.4 In line with this approach, the Prime Minister has initiated the creation of a task force, which will consists of 30 to 50 volunteers pro-bono lawyers. The team will assists poor and vulnerable women, like widows and imprisoner women, especially in rural areas, garments workers and monitor the cases where vulnerable women are involved.5

While currently there are no public policies governing legal aid, internal regulations and related legislation exist for the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC). The BAKC is a non-governmental institution that represents Cambodia’s lawyers. In order to practice law and provide assistance in Court in Cambodia, one must be a member of the Bar. Thus, the BAKC is a separate entity from the government, but closely tied to Cambodia’s judicial system.6 The Law on the Bar, setting requirements for the BAKC, obliges the BAKC to provide legal assistance to the impoverished in certain circumstances. Meanwhile, the BAKC’s internal regulations outline its legal aid process in more detail.

The Law on the Bar sets the standard of legal care that is to be given to legal aid clients, as well as which citizens are eligible for legal aid. Article 29 of the Law on the Bar, states that all lawyers must defend their legal aid clients with the same procedures and standards as they would paying clients.7Additionally, Article 30 details that “those people who have no property, no income, or who receive insufficient income to support their living” can petition for free legal aid to the Chief Judge of the Courts and the Chiefs of the Court Clerks. In turn, the Chief Judge determines whether the petitioner is sufficiently impoverished following an on-site investigation.8

Chapter VI of the BAKC’s Internal Regulations provides the procedural details of assigning attorneys to court-approved legal aid clients. If a citizen is found to be necessarily disadvantaged by the Chief Judge of the Courts, a BAKC attorney is assigned to represent him /her in court. Upon receipt of an approved request for legal aid, the President of the BAKC, has a maximum of seven days to designate an attorney to their case.9

If not granted authorization for legal aid by the court, individuals can reach out to legal aid non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for assistance, though they often receive more inquiries than they can accept given their resources. Regardless, some larger NGOs have internal policies and regulations (as the BAKC has) on how donor funding should be allocated and which demographics are eligible for their services.

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