Twenty lawyers offering free legal aid will be assigned by July to 20 of Cambodia’s provinces and municipalities, many of which are without practicing lawyers, the Cambodian Bar Association and the French legal group Avocats Sans Frontieres France announced Tuesday.
The bar association, which has been wracked by an internal leadership struggle for well over a year, is selecting lawyers along with the ASFF from a pool of 30 applicants collected by the association, ASFF deputy project leader Francois Roger said.
“Our local team, which has in recent weeks scoured Cambodia, visited all courts, met with magistrates and clerks, and inventoried needs, has observed that at 10 courts there is no resident lawyer,” Roger said at a signing ceremony for the project in Phnom Penh.
“The defense must not be absent even if the jurisdiction is far from the capital,” he said.
The project will receive nearly $700,000 from the European Union over three years.
During that time, the funds will be used to pay the 20 Cambodian lawyers between $250 and $300 each per month to handle between five and 10 cases per week on behalf of ASFF, according to Jean-Baptiste de Seze, who toured the Cambodian courts for the organization.
The selected lawyers will be allowed to have private clients so that they can continue to practice independently, he said.
Suong Chanthorn, director of legal aid at the bar association, said lawyers are currently concentrated in Phnom Penh for financial reasons.
“This will at least reduce hearings without lawyers, and pre-trial detention that is longer than the law allows,” he said.
Ky Tech, who lost an election for the association’s presidency in April 2004 to council member Suon Visal but refused to step down, signed off on the agreement between the two organizations at the signing ceremony.
Asked whether the problems at the bar association would impact on the project’s success, Roger said he did not believe that Ky Tech’s departure from his position would jeopardize the project.
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)