The Cambodian Bar Association on Friday published a statement in local media and on its website drawing attention to the fact that non-licensed foreign lawyers and firms working in Cambodia were doing so illegally.
Yim Sary, spokesman for the Bar Association, said the statement had been released to highlight the fact that, according to Cambodian law, foreign lawyers were not permitted to practice law here unless their country reciprocated the privilege and allowed Cambodian lawyers to practice.
“So far, we have never been able to work in overseas countries, so it’s not right that foreign lawyers can work in Cambodia,” Mr. Sary said.
Under the Law on the Bar, adopted in 1995, foreign lawyers are not permitted to represent clients in Cambodia, although bar-qualified lawyers may practice their profession with the authorization of the Cambodian Bar Association if a lawyer’s country of origin extends the same opportunity to Cambodian lawyers.
“Foreign lawyers should be ordered to stop working temporarily, so that they can go and tell the bar associations in their respective own countries to come to negotiate reciprocal arrangements,” Mr. Sary said.
In practice, however, foreign lawyers have long worked as consultants and legal advisers in Cambodia and, alongside Cambodian attorneys, have helped to facilitate much of the international investment in the country over the past two decades.
Asked why the Bar Association was raising the issue now, Mr. Sary said it was a problem that has long needed to be addressed, but has become pressing more recently as the number of foreign lawyers in Cambodia has increased.
“If they continue to deliver legal services, we will take legal measures, which, based on Cambodia’s law, means they could be sent to jail or face cash penalties for continuing their illegal operations in Cambodia,” he said.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana and the Justice Ministry’s spokesman could not be reached Friday.
Several foreign lawyers working in Cambodia declined to comment on the issue when reached Friday, all citing the sensitivity of the issue.
“It’s a very sensitive subject, so it doesn’t make any sense to talk about it openly,” said an American lawyer working for one of the country’s biggest law firms.
“I don’t think that what foreign attorneys do here is contrary to Cambodian law…as most firms are licensed and most foreign lawyers work alongside Cambodian lawyers,” he said, adding, however, that he does anticipate that there will soon be tougher enforcement of existing rules.