Judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, frustrated by what they characterize as the obstruction of proceedings by Khieu Samphan’s lawyers over the past two months, on Friday ordered new “standby” lawyers to be appointed to represent the former Khmer Rouge head of state during his genocide trial.
The three lawyers currently representing Khieu Samphan have been boycotting the trial since its commencement in mid-October on instructions from their client, who said he wants them to focus on preparing his appeal in the first phase of his case, which saw him sentenced in August to life in prison for committing crimes against humanity.
Despite threats from judges that the lawyers would face “firm action” if they did not appear in court, as well as a decision by the Trial Chamber to reclassify them as “court-appointed lawyers” in an effort to make them more tractable, the three defenders have insisted that they will continue their boycott until their appeal is filed in late December.
With few practical remaining options to sanction the lawyers, and with the court’s winter holiday recess fast approaching, the Trial Chamber last month adjourned hearings until January 8.
The appointment of standby counsel is likely to have little actual effect since Khieu Samphan’s lawyers have announced their intention to attend court in January, but the Trial Chamber said on Friday that the move was necessary to make sure the defenders could not disrupt court proceedings in the future.
“The role of Standby Counsel shall be to prepare and maintain the capacity to take over the defense of Khieu Samphan at any time should the Chamber find it necessary to replace current Counsel,” the judges wrote.
After being hired by the ECCC’s Defense Support Section, the standby lawyers will be asked to familiarize themselves with the case and attend all proceedings in the Case 002/02 trial. Among their new responsibilities will be to “adhere to court orders,” the Trial Chamber said.
Lars Olsen, legal affairs spokesman for the court, said the Defense Support Section would choose the standby lawyers based on their availability and that Khieu Samphan would not be allowed to select them.
Kong Sam Onn, one of Khieu Samphan’s lawyers, said the court’s decision to hire new lawyers was “a waste of resources.”
“As we are lawyers for Khieu Samphan, we are going to join the hearing after the deadline of the submission of the appeal brief and so there is no point for the court to appoint [standby lawyers], because Khieu Samphan doesn’t need that kind of service,” he said.
Mr. Olsen said the new standby lawyers would be paid for their work, but could not say how much.
“That depends a little bit on their qualifications, so I can’t give you an exact amount…. There are different rates based on experience,” he said.
Foreign defense lawyers are typically ranked at the P5 level on the U.N.’s pay scale, which allows them to make up to $106,510 annually.
Also Friday, the ECCC released a copy of a letter sent to the Trial Chamber by the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia late last month reiterating that all lawyers practicing in Cambodia are under the Bar Association’s jurisdiction.
The letter, which was signed by association president Bun Hun, noted that the Bar Association was “the body with competence to impose sanction against lawyers.”
The association’s spokesman, Yim Sary, said he could not comment on the missive and would have to check with Mr. Hun to establish why he sent it.
However, Mr. Sam Onn said it was a response to a “request for intervention” he filed in November with the Bar Association against the Trial Chamber’s attempt to sanction him and his co-lawyers.
“The letter was issued to give a message to the chamber that the chamber has no authority to discipline any lawyer because professional conduct must be overseen by the bar counsel, not the court,” he said.
During the drafting of the ECCC’s internal rules in 2006 and 2007, the Bar Association repeatedly clashed with the ECCC over how much control it would be given over defense lawyers practicing at the court. At the time, the association insisted that only it should be allowed to discipline lawyers for misconduct.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)