Legal aid providers

Legal aid is provided either by the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC), internationally funded Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and public interest law firms. A special legal team under the supervision of the Prime Minister, aiming to assist impoverished women, particularly those in prison, and garment workers will join the list of legal aid providers in an indefinite future.1

Depending on the provider, the type of offered legal aid may differ. For example, some providers may only offer assistance with criminal defense or civil suits. The Department of Legal Aid of the BAKC provides pro bono legal aid only to individuals once they have successfully petitioned the Chief of the Court for assistance. As such, the BAKC’s legal assistance is generally limited to criminal defense cases.2 As a result, misdemeanors are not in the field of BAKC legal aid service. Moreover, the Department of Legal Aid of the BAKC is mainly funded by contributions from the Ministry of Justice. Despite several recent increases of the budget allocated by the Ministry of Justic, it remains insufficient to deliver a legal aid service meeting the nation-wide demand. Therefore, citizens rely heavily on the lawyers supported by NGOs, the public interest lawyers and the private pro-bono lawyers and to provide legal aid.

NGOs are flexible in the clients they can serve, electing to represent citizens in civil suits or criminal defense. However, NGOs typically represent clients in accordance with their mission or purpose. This could mean the NGO only represents clients of a certain demographic or only handles particular classes of disputes. For example, some legal aid NGOs may only represent women and children, or only counsel on land rights.3 The lack of established national legal aid policy has resulted in donor fatigue, and funds to NGOs for legal aid services have been shrinking since then. In 2017, 37 legal aid lawyers were employed by 15 NGOs, which is 53% less than in 2006.4 This trend may be reversed with the very recent announcement by some NGOs of the establishment of new legal aid teams.5

Nearly one hundred young lawyers attended at Cambodia Bridges to Justice’s training on the newest way to advance access to justice: a mobile phone application set to revolutionize legal aid in Cambodia. Photo by International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), taken on 31 July 2019. Licenses not specified.

As is traditional, private lawyers devote a portion of their time to pro-bono activities, and can therefore assist clients free of charge. Most major Cambodian law firms offer pro-bono services. It is distinct from the public interest law firms, which employ for-profit attorneys that primarily assist underrepresented or marginalized individuals.6 Although they do not receive significant funding from donors, they often share similar goals with NGOs. Their establishment is recent and not yet very developed, only two firms are well known: the Samreth Law Group and the Vishnu Law Group, constituted respectively in 2008 and 2012. Unlike with NGOs however, individual public interest attorneys are able to select the cases and clients that they believe would best further justice and are not constrained by a mission statement or board of directors. As such, public interest firms are similarly able to assist with either criminal defense or civil disputes, depending upon an attorney’s interests.7 Thus, they will follow their agenda, focusing on medium to high-profile cases, such as land disputes and environmental protection.

The “Samdech Techo Sen’s Voluntary Lawyers Group”, the legal aid team under the Prime Minister consists of 67 volunteers’ pro-bono lawyers, leaded by Ky Tech, the Government Chief Lawyer. 8 This team is financed by private funds raised by the First Minister on an individual basis. However, the Prime Minister has charged the Government’s lawyers with the task of setting up the team. The team will assists poor and vulnerable women, like widows and imprisoned women, especially in rural areas, garments workers and monitor the cases where vulnerable women are involved.However, the rights group raises some concerns about the impact of such a Government-tied organization over the judges and the keeping of judicial independence.9

 

Legal Aid Department of the BACK

Legal Aid NGOs

Private Law Firms

Public Interest Law firms

Samdech Techo Sen’s Voluntary Lawyers Group

Funding of the organization

MoJ funds and contributions from members

International funds

Clients’ fees

Clients’ fees and international funds

Private (personal funds of the Prime Minister and donors)

Type of legal aid

Judicial assistance and counselling

Judicial assistance and counselling, Legal training and dissemination

Judicial assistance and counselling

Judicial assistance and counselling

Judicial assistance and counselling

Selection of the cases regarding their nature

Only major offenses : Crimes

All types.  Some NGOs specialize in certain types of cases such as land disputes or gender-based violence.

Discretionary

Medium to high-profile land disputes cases, environmental issues, human rights.

Females garment workers,

Females inmates

Selection of the cases regarding the litigant

Poverty threshold as defined in the Law on the Bar and following an on-site investigation from the Chief Judge of the Court10

Vulnerable citizens : women, children, LGBTIQ, ethnic minorities (indigenous communities)

Discretionary

Discretionary

Poor and vulnerable women (widows and imprisoned women) especially in rural areas, garments workers

Related to legal aid providers

References

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