Legal understanding: “Who is a lawyer?”

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Frequently, when the term “Lawyer” is mentioned, in fact it has been referred to as a legal person or a person who works in the judicial sector. However, among present Cambodian society there are still many people who have not clearly understood the functions and duties of a lawyer. Some of them are still misunderstanding that the role of lawyers is equivalent to other roles in the judicial institution such as judges, prosecutors or greffiers. Some even misunderstand that lawyers are problem solvers or decision makers for the disputing parties in the judicial institution. In order to avoid this misunderstanding and to improve the knowledge of Cambodian people in general as well as students intending to enhance their knowledge in relation to the legal understanding of Cambodia International Cooperation Law Group in cooperation with Fresh News Agency, the topic of “Who is a lawyer” will be brought for the following discussions.

A lawyer is a profession which has characteristics of being free and independent and is created to serve in the judicial sector and this profession can only be practised within Bar Association Framework according to Article 1 of Law on the Status of Lawyers of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Working or doing business as a lawyer has existed since 5 century BC in Athen, modern day Greece, which at that time lawyers did business as speakers or debaters to earn money. As time went by, this profession had evolved extensively along with the development of the world and it had been compiled as a standard of a proper profession.

On the other hands, in Cambodian society lawyer profession had only been around for the last century. In the early 20th century, during 1930s lawyer profession was officially introduced through the royal announcement by the king but during that time this profession was called «វិជ្ជាជីវៈស្មាក្តី» and the practitioner of this profession was called «អ្នកថណាយក្តី». Due the development of the country  along with many law enactments by the government in order to contain such development, it had helped this profession to emerge more rapidly within social activities so that it could help facilitate the communication of private lives of Cambodians and business sector and then the profession evolved into a proper  lawyer profession. According to Khmer dictionary written by the High Monk, Samdech Choun Nat, the word “Lawyer” means “ Scholar”.

In present day, lawyer profession has been included into the framework of Legal Profession Rules which composes of characteristics of lawyer, code of ethics and regulations of Bar Association. A lawyer is not a worker in the judicial system or Ministry of Justice and not even a public servant. Therefore, a lawyer do not have salary and there is no age or retirement restrictions for being a lawyer and this

means a person who works as a lawyer can be a lawyer for life unless there is a circumstance that the person voluntarily resigns or is deregistered by Bar Association or punished under any crimes. As lawyers are not public servant and work without wages, laws require that lawyers must provide legal services to their clients or customers and charge them for fees, however there are cases that lawyers can provide legal services for free such as legal service provisions to the poors which proposed by Bar Association or organised by the lawyers themselves.

Despite being not the public servants in court system or Ministry of Justice, lawyers play an active role in serving in judicial system, enhancing rule of law and protecting human rights in Kingdom of Cambodia. Lawyers are granted rights and reliability by their customers or clients to legally represent them as best as they can through their legal techniques in order to protect the rights and legitimate benefits of their clients or customers. Clients, through their own will, have the right whether to choose their lawyers to legally represent or defend them, but laws require that lawyers must be chosen to represent them in some special cases such as cases where the defendant is a minor or accused of committing crimes. In these cases, if the defendant is unable to find a lawyer the court must request to the Bar Association to appoint a lawyer to represent the defendant.

In relation to the independence and freedom of lawyers, according to Article 1 of Law on the Status of Lawyers enacted in 1995 stated that “Lawyer profession is an independent and free in which helps serve in the judicial sector and lawyer profession can be practised only within the Framework of Bar Association”. The meaning of this article shows that lawyers must practise their profession independently, not under any influences or orders from anyone despite the orders are made by Bar Association. At the same time, lawyers have absolute freedom in accepting or refusing to provide legal consultations to their clients or refusing to legally defend their clients in any cases which the lawyers deem to have unlawful complications and are against their conscience.

Lawyers have the freedom in practising their profession everywhere within the Kingdom of Cambodia. On the other hands, the person who is a lawyer must be under the management of Bar Association where this institution has the legal right to monitor the activities of any lawyers who act against the Rule of Profession.

The duties of lawyers are highlighted in the followings:

  • Lawyers can legally represent their clients in civil cases upon the agreement from the clients through written engagement letter to allow lawyers to represent them by term in all tribunals and circumstances of legal proceedings except that there is law that state otherwise, especially in the case related to

civil cases such as business, administration, employment and social work cases. Lawyers play an active role in searching for evidence to show the tribunal in those cases.

  • Lawyers can defend the suspects, accused persons and defendants through the letter requesting for lawyers representation in criminal cases but lawyers cannot represent those except in the case where there is special laws apply.
  • Lawyers can represent the responsible persons in civil cases and also plaintiffs in civil cases through letter requesting for lawyer representation and engagement letter.
  • Lawyers also legally defend their clients against Disciplinary Committee.
  • Lawyers provide legal consultations and documentations in regulatory framework.
  • Lawyers can be appointed by disputing parties or judge to act as facilitators or reconcilers. Lawyers can also be appointed as arbitrators unless laws allow to do so.
  • Lawyers promote legal knowledge in order to help improve the public knowledge of legal system and lawyers also endorse the respect of human right.

Compiled by: Attorney at law Mr. Ly Rathy and Attorney at law Mr. Meng Vanny (Cambodia International Cooperation Law Group)

Sponsored by: Dean Da Bio-Energy Investments Co.

Copy right protected by: Fresh News Agency

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