International judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday welcomed the Cambodian Bar Association’s decision to slash its fees for foreign lawyers to $500, and said they believed the court’s crucial procedural rules could now be adopted at the end of May.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, the judges said they were “confident that this fee will not hinder international lawyers, particularly those working in a pro bono capacity, from registering with the Cambodian bar and taking part in the historic work of the Extraordinary Chambers [in the Courts of Cambodia].”
Following the bar’s decision, “international judges believe that a successful plenary can now be called to adopt the internal rules of the Extraordinary Chambers. It is expected that this plenary will be held in the last week of May 2007,” the statement continued.
International judges have said that the high fees initially proposed by the bar would have restricted the ability of victims and defendants to work with lawyers of their choosing, thus undermining a principal of international justice.
The international judges had refused to call a plenary to adopt the internal rules, without which the trials cannot proceed, until the fees were lowered.
“We are now in a position to move ahead,” Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde said in an interview. “That’s good news.”
The first public hearing could now begin in early 2008, he added.
ECCC Supreme Court Chamber President Kong Srim said Cambodian judges had not yet met to discuss the bar’s revised fees but that the delay in calling the plenary had been caused by international judges. Now, he said, “there is no more dispute.”
Exact dates for the plenary have not been set.
Lemonde said international judges had decided unanimously to call the plenary despite lingering doubt about whether lawyers working for free at the court would also be charged the registration fee. Lemonde called that possibility “unsatisfactory,” but said it did not justify further delay.
Bar President Ky Tech said the governing body of the bar would likely meet again to discuss whether to waive the fee for pro bono lawyers. “Maybe we will not take money because they come to help us,” he said.
ECCC Principal Defender Rupert Skilbeck said pro bono lawyers should not have to pay additional costs.
“It seems unfair that a lawyer prepared to pay his own way to come to Cambodia, probably to represent victims of the Khmer Rouge, will have to pay an additional fee for the privilege of doing so,” he said.
Skilbeck said the bar’s decision to lower the fees was “very positive,” but added that some lawyers might balk at paying even $500 for the possibility of landing a client.
“Many lawyers may be reluctant to gamble $500 for the mere possibility of getting a case. But it has been decided that the best thing to do is move forward and see how many lawyers apply. Hopefully our concerns will be unfounded,” he said.
Yoshi Kodama, head of administration at the Japanese Embassy, said on Saturday that Japan welcomed the bar’s decision. “Japan expects that, following the decision, internal procedural rules will be adopted at an early timing, then the proceedings will be properly and promptly commenced,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Japan, he added, “has been supporting the Khmer Rouge trials to the fullest extent, in view that its realization is instrumental for establishing Cambodia’s rule of law as well as achieving justice for Cambodian victims.”
Australian Ambassador Margaret Adamson also greeted the progress at the court.
“We would very much welcome that plenary taking place and launching the tribunal as rapidly as possible,” she said.
International and national judges said they have met in recent days to fine-tune the controversial draft rules.
Co-Investigating Judge You Bun Leng said that though no significant disagreements over the rules remain, judges were working to settle the details of a proposed victims unit in advance of the plenary session.
The unit is aimed at protecting victims’ rights and facilitating their participation in the court.
“We don’t want to have the disputes again,” You Bun Leng said.