A ministry of Justice spokesman has confirmed that following discussions with civil society organisations and legal experts, it had raised the issue of legal assistance for Cambodia’s vulnerable at this year’s national policy
The 2018 Justice Matters Conference – an annual gathering of government, development and civil society organisations, academics and students to discuss domestic justice matters – was held on December 7 at the National University of Management in Phnom Penh.
“We raised issues regarding access to legal information and the delivery of quality legal aid for discussion at this year’s conference. Many people don’t have access to adequate legal information and aid from the ministry."
"When people lack such legal aid, they lose the right to justice and that results in great social injustice,” ministry spokesman Chin Malin said.
Malin said that through meetings with civil society groups and legal experts between August 2017 and August 2018, he uncovered that the ministry’s current legal aid mechanisms were failing to meet the needs of vulnerable people due to a lack of human resources, finances and legal-policy frameworks.
“We are in the process of preparing a common national policy for solving this problem. We have already discussed what that policy should entail in order to solve the problems we are facing,” he said.
People who benefit most from legal aid are women, children, the disabled and ethnic groups in the rural areas.
Malin confirmed that a revised legal aid policy would be forwarded for further discussion at a government level at the nearest possible occasion.
“Changes can only materialise if it passes a leader discussion in the policy framework, something we intend to host early within the sixth mandate,” he said.
The ministry plans to increase the national budget for legal aid by 1.2 billion riel ($300,000) in 2019 to help cover “transportation and food costs” for lawyers working pro-bono for poor and vulnerable people.
According to Malin, roughly 500 of Cambodia’s approximately 1,000 lawyers are currently working on a voluntary basis providing legal support.
As their service is viewed as social work, the ministry offers them money as an incentive to continue.
Head of the Rule of Law Unit at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Claudia de la Fuente said she was happy to see consultations occurring.
“I believe the policy will move in a positive way with the participation of relevant parties. Their voices will be heard and they have the right to voice their opinions and suggestions,” she said.
Member of the EU delegation Simone Pieri also welcomed the draft policy. He said access to justice structures among the poor is crucial to maintaining stability in Cambodia.
“We hope that revisions to this policy will create a system capable of providing supporting to Cambodia’s marginalised people so that they are able to access justice,” he said.