The Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday announced sweeping changes to its system of victim participation that promise to streamline how victims are represented in court.
As expected, the tribunal will adopt a system of “lead co-lawyers” in which two lawyers represent the interests of all civil parties, who are expected to number in the thousands for the court’s next case. A number of other civil party lawyers will work under the lead co-lawyers, supporting them and interacting more closely with individual victims.
The lead co-lawyers will “endeavor to reach consensus” with the lawyers under them, the court said in a statement. At the discretion of the lead lawyers, supporting lawyers can also make oral and written submissions and examine witnesses in court.
The court plans to establish a separate section for the lead co-lawyers and their support staff, who will be funded by the court.
In the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, which ended in September, 63 civil parties were divided into four groups, each of which was represented by a team of several lawyers.
These groups had equal standing and were not always coordinated, slowing down the pace of courtroom proceedings and accelerating calls for civil party reforms. They also experienced fundamental disagreements on matters of law.
With more than 4,000 victims hoping to participate in the court’s second case, judges said that system had become untenable.
“It is clear that existing legal provisions in Cambodian criminal procedures are not designed to deal with individualized participation by victims on this scale,” the court said in a statement.
“The new scheme as adopted is intended to balance the rights of all parties, to safeguard the ability of the ECCC to achieve its mandate while maintaining civil party participation, and to enhance the quality of civil party representation.”
In months of discussions, civil party lawyers reacted forcefully to the proposed changes, saying they could deny fundamental rights to their clients and put lawyers in ethically compromising situations.
Richard Rogers, the chief of the court’s defense support section, issued his own statement yesterday that raised several concerns about the new rules, including the fact that the number of potential civil party lawyers–which Mr Rogers said could exceed 40–dwarfs the number of defense lawyers.
Combined with the prosecution team, there would be “more than 50” lawyers working to convict the accused in future trials.
“Such a considerable imbalance in resources can only serve to undermine the equality of arms, and therefore the fairness of the proceedings,” Mr Rogers wrote.
Tribunal legal affairs spokesman Lars Olsen said yesterday that he could not confirm the estimate provided in the defense statement.
“It has been decided that there will be two co-lawyers, and the number of support staff will depend on the workload,” he said.
Civil party lawyer Silke Studzinsky, who represents nearly 200 clients, expressed serious reservations yesterday about a system that would put the interests of all civil parties in the hands of just two lawyers.
“Civil party lawyers are giving up any effective rights to be allowed to legally represent our clients in court because we’ll be relying without any criteria on the goodwill or bad will of the lead counsel to make decisions,” she said.