Rights groups have urged the Cambodian Bar Association to reduce the “exorbitant” fees it plans to charge foreign lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and implored all parties not to use the issue to stall the court.
“We urge [the Cambodian Bar Association] to reconsider its request,” the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee—a coalition of 23 local NGOs and the Bangkok-based rights group Forum Asia—said in a statement late Monday.
The bar’s request will severely limit the freedom of choice of counsel afforded to an individual, CHRAC said, and asked “all parties involved not to use the issue of charging fees for foreign lawyers as an impediment to obstruct justice.”
Bar President Ky Tech declined comment Tuesday.
The Bar Association ruled last week that foreign lawyers at the tribunal would have to pay a $500 membership application fee to the bar. If selected to represent a client, they would pay an additional $2,000, plus $200 per month in dues.
Tribunal judges announced Friday that the last obstacle to adopting the court’s internal rules, without which the tribunal cannot proceed, are the high fees the bar hopes to charge foreign lawyers.
International judges warned Friday that if the fee issue is not resolved, they will not be able to adopt the rules, as planned, in April.
Legal Aid of Cambodia Director Peung Yok Hiep also asked the Bar Association to reconsider its fees Monday. “In a society where the law rules, all accused should have access to good legal representation,” she said in a statement.
Fees aside, the substance of the new draft rules was welcomed by a number of court observers this week. Several foreign diplomats expressed optimism that the Bar Association and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia would be able to solve the fee problem.
“We consider the outcome of the last session of the review committee as a very positive development,” Fabyene Mansencal, spokeswoman for the French Embassy, said Tuesday.
“We are confident that all parties will rise to the expectations so that all conditions are met to allow for a general agreement in the plenary meeting of the tribunal by the end of April,” she said.
Under the newly-drafted rules, foreign lawyers would be allowed to appear before the court, provided they work with a Cambodian co-lawyer, said Peter Foster, the UN’s tribunal public affairs officer.
Foreign lawyers will be able to address judges after being introduced once by their Cambodian colleagues, he added, rather than having to ask permission to speak at every turn—the position once advocated by the Bar Association.