Lawyers must now obtain permission from the Cambodian Bar Association before speaking to television and radio media in order to ensure that they do not speak out of turn, the association’s president said in a meeting on Friday.
“First, we want to ensure a high quality of law dissemination. Second, to ensure that explanations of the law to the public are correct, and third to ensure that lawyers adhere to high professional standards,” said Bun Honn, the association’s president.
The new rule does not mean that lawyers would not be allowed to speak to the press, nor is it an attempt to stifle media freedom, Mr. Honn maintained, addressing Bar Association members at the organization’s Phnom Penh headquarters.
“Lawyers can talk to the media, for example, about where a case is going but they can’t criticize a court’s judgment or say the verdict of the court is unfair,” he said when contacted by telephone later.
Penalties for violating the new rule would range from a formal warning to disbarment, he said.
At the association’s request, the Ministry of Information on January 31 also issued a statement advising all television and radio media organizations that wish to interview lawyers to go through the Bar Association first.
At the moment, the only lawyer entirely banned from giving media interviews is Kouy Thunna, who Mr. Honn explained had violated Article 15 in the Lawyer’s Code of Ethics. He declined to say exactly how Mr. Thunna had violated the code, but Article 15 stipulates that lawyers must not give false or deceitful information or engage in self-promotion.
Mr. Thunna declined to comment on the Bar Association’s ban.
Sok Sam Oeun, a lawyer and executive director of legal aid group the Cambodian Defenders Project, said lawyers should be able to serve their clients without being held back by such a rule and that the Constitution protected the right to express one’s opinion.
“Each lawyer is a professional and they know the law and they are also responsible for their clients. For example, if the client agrees for him to say it, he can say it,” Mr. Sam Oeun said, adding that he has never heard of such a rule in other democratic countries.
“If the Bar is concerned that maybe some lawyers do not know how to deal with this, I think it is better for the Bar to train lawyers to deal with journalists,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)