The Justice Ministry and its partner organisations yesterday met to discuss ways to create a national policy on providing legal aid for the poor.
During a workshop on “Legal Aid in Cambodia: Development and Challenges” in Phnom Penh, Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said that Cambodia currently does not have a law or policy on legal aid to help the poor, unlike other countries in the region.
He said that Cambodia previously obtained feedback from European countries on the issue and is now collecting more input to ensure that the national policy will be comprehensive and able to respond to the needs of people.
“This legal aid policy is important to ensure that all stakeholders receive real justice in society, because sometimes our people do not receive justice and even suffer injustice due to the lack of legal aid,” he said.
Mr Malin said that legal aid to the poor includes legal education, dissemination, legal counselling by experts, petty dispute mediation and the provision of lawyers to defend cases in the courts.
He added that although Cambodia still does not have a law or national policy on legal aid, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Bar Association, some civil society organisations and law students have organised various programmes to help provide legal services and lawyers to help poor people.
Mr Malin noted that Prime Minister Hun Sen recently set up a special team of lawyers to help defend poor women who face court action.
Yesterday’s workshop was jointly organised by the Ministry of Justice and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Cambodia.
Daniel Schmücking, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s country representative, yesterday expressed support for efforts to set up the national policy and said the foundation will provide technical assistance and capacity development by training legal aid service providers in a bid to improve the rule of law system in Cambodia.
“Konrad has already provided support to the Ministry of Justice relating to legal aid and will continue to do so in the future,” he said.
Preap Kol, Transparency International Cambodia executive director, said that the creation of the national policy on legal aid is an appropriate mechanism that can respond to the needs of the people.
“Our justice system still has a lot of weaknesses, including the lack of legal aid to the poor or indigenous people who are abused by powerful and wealthy people.” he said. “The discussions to find ways to expand legal aid services to poor people is a right policy and responds to the actual needs of the people.”
However, Mr Kol said that with the creation of a legal aid policy, relevant ministries should also increase the number of lawyers in the country, give suitable incentive bonuses for lawyers to provide legal services to the poor and ensure that decisions made in the trial process are transparent and fair to the poor.
Khlok Dara, the ministry’s International Relations and Development Partners Department director, yesterday said that Cambodia currently has about 1,500 lawyers, 265 judges and 168 prosecutors.