Legal Body Calls for Bar Association to Ensure Independence

The Bar Association of Cambodia should consider stricter standards on admission to the bar, make lawyers take regular mandatory training and set up a new disciplinary committee in order to ensure that Cambodia’s legal professionals are independent, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has said.

The ICJ in April called for the Bar Association to clarify ambiguity in Article 17 of its newly adopted Code of Ethics, which says that lawyers should make public statements or statements to the press “only within the framework of strict compliance with the duties of the legal profession.”

In an open letter to the Cam­bodian Bar’s secretary-general, Sang Sothun, dated Friday, ICJ regional director for Asia and the Pacific Sam Zarifi thanked Mr. Sothun for clarifying the article in a meeting in Phnom Penh on July 26.

“We are pleased to hear that the Bar Association does not interpret Article 17 in a way that makes it mandatory for lawyers to seek permission from the Bar Association before speaking to the media,” Mr. Zarifi wrote.

“Rather, you clarified that, under Article 17, lawyers are free to express their opinion in any radio or television program without prior permission from the Bar President or other persons from the Bar Association.”

The letter also commended the Bar Association for not, to date, sanctioning any lawyers for violating Article 17.

However, Mr. Zarifi also listed recommendations that the ICJ has made to the Bar Association to “develop and improve the standards and safeguards of independence of the legal profession, in a manner that is consistent with international standards and respect for lawyers’ rights.”

The ICJ has asked the Bar Association to implement “non-discriminatory, objective, clear and uniform criteria related to the admission to the Bar,” he wrote, adding that admission should require that lawyers are fully trained in the law, in judicial independence and in ethics and human rights.

It also recommended mandatory regular training and the establishment of an independent committee to oversee disciplinary hearings for lawyers subject to allegations of misconduct.

Although the letter was published online, Bar Association president Bun Honn said Sunday he had not seen it, so could not comment on the recommendations.

Mr. Honn—a former under secretary of state at the Justice Ministry and a member of the government’s legal advice body, the Council of Jurists—once again defended the Bar Association’s impartiality.

“They should learn about other countries’ bar associations. We don’t understand why they say the Cambodian Bar Association is not independent,” he said, adding that Article 17 was created with the help of the U.N. and did not prevent lawyers from talking to the press.

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