Position of lawyers
Lawyers in Cambodia are cautious while executing their profession and their independence and freedom are often put under pressure. It is dangerous for them to openly take a critical position. Under these circumstances, many lawyers either remain silent or collaborate. This is the safest option and often the only way for a lawyer to earn a living.
Another problem is that there are not enough qualified lawyers to provide legal services to the the 16.000.000 inhabitants of the country. Access to lawyers is further limited, because of the fact that 90% of the population lives in the provinces and the available lawyers work mainly in the cities. Therefore education and training is much needed.
Lawyers are united in the Bar Association Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC). The BAKC is closely affiliated to and controlled by the Cambodian People’s Party. The BAKC needs to submit a report of its functioning on a yearly basis to the Minister of Justice. Prime Minister Hun Sen is a member of the BAKC (he received an honorary PhD in law even though he has never studied law).
In the Law on the Statutes of Lawyers 1995 (article 13) is stated how lawyers can become a member of the BAKC. Prospective members have to apply at a special committee to go through the selection procedure. This in itself would not constitute a problem, but the used selection criteria are very unclear and arbitrary.
Rules for lawyers
Law on the Statutes of Lawyers 1995: Lawyers must meet (apart from the basic conditions such as nationality and age, etc.) two specific conditions for admission to the BAKC:
- A certificate of the Lawyers Training Centre (entry exam);
- Two years of legal work experience and at least having obtained a bachelor’s degree in law.
That a lawyer is qualified does not mean that he is admitted (in fact: sometimes completely unqualified people are admitted). Prospective lawyers often have to pay large sums for the training and to become a member of the bar (corruption).
The Law on the Statutes of Lawyers 1995 is currently under review, for which a special commission has been appointed. It is not expected that this reform will greatly improve the position of lawyers in the near future.
Disciplinary proceedings/Code of Ethics (2013)
These proceedings are regularly being used as method to silence lawyers. For example, article 17 states that all interventions made publicly or through public media by lawyers in the capacity of lawyers may be permitted only within the framework of strict compliance with the duties of the legal profession(..) This leaves ample space for subjective interpretation, especially in light of the BAKC’s track record of political influence.