Pro Bono Work: Providing Access to Justice in Cambodia

by Matthew Rendall, Rosette Sok, Soromnear Sin and Ellisa Bunlee- SokSiphana & Associates
Monday, 6 February 2023 08:54 GMT

Pro bono legal services in Cambodia are primarily provided by The Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (“BAKC"), NGOs and law firms. In 2021, a special legal aid team under the supervision of the prime minister, consisting of a group of lawyers called the “Samdech Techno Sen’s Voluntary Lawyers Group”, was also created to protect the rights and interests of vulnerable groups. These include impoverished women, prisoners, garment workers, and those who do not have meaningful access to legal representation.

The various providers offer different types of pro bono legal services. BAKC has primarily focused its legal aid assistance for people accused of felonies or minors involved with misdemeanors or felonies. However, following a new policy introduced in 2021, BAKC has now expanded its scope of services to include legal representation of victims and suspects, and legal defence for defendants who have been charged with a crime and cannot afford legal representation. Nonetheless, Cambodian citizens, especially those living in rural areas, still lack access to legal aid due to the lack of funding for such services and the shortage of lawyers who can help low-income clients. This is exacerbated by the lack of local bar associations in each province, and few to no law firms being present at a regional level.     . Locals, therefore, tend to rely more on NGOs and pro bono lawyers to provide them with legal assistance.

NGOs tend to be more flexible as they can choose to represent citizens in either civil lawsuits or criminal cases, but they more often help those whose cases align with their goals or missions. In addition, most major Cambodian law firms do offer pro bono services and assist clients free of charge. Individual attorneys are also not limited by a mission statement or board of directors and are free to choose the cases and clients they wish to assist, subject to clearance of conflicts.

Pro bono legal services in Cambodia have developed significantly in recent years in terms of issues and geographical areas covered, and there has certainly been an increase in the number of volunteer lawyers and funding for legal aid. However, Cambodia still has a long way to go in providing equal and meaningful access to legal representation for all. Since the firm’s humble beginnings back in 1998, SokSiphana&associates have assisted and represented numerous clients from individuals to government organisations and NGOs, both locally and abroad, through our pro bono legal service program to promote access to legal services in Cambodia.

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