After the prison we headed to the Provincial Court and met with the Chief Prosecutor, the President of the Court, and an investigating judge. We had very useful discussions with the Chief Prosecutor and the President of the Court, who appreciated our work in the province. I also learned that the court in Pursat has started to assign cases directly to our IBJ lawyer when the Defendant needs a lawyer and does not have one. In such circumstances, the presiding Judge instructs the court clerk to contact IBJ’s lawyer to provide representation to the accused. As a result of this system, Sithann had 127 cases as of the first week of February and informed me that this number is steadily increasing. He looked overwhelmed but determined. Sithann is assisted by his investigator but mentioned that it has become a very difficult job for him to investigate and properly prepare for a case when he also has to represent clients in court at the same time.
At the end of the trip to the three provinces, I was very pleased to see that IBJ’s provincial offices in Cambodia are beginning to function as a proper criminal defense legal aid office in a developed system with courts directly assigning cases to IBJ lawyers. The only difference is that there is only one lawyer per office and the number of cases are steadily increasing. The new Cambodian Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that it is mandatory for an accused persons charged with a felony to be represented by an attorney. This poses a greater challenge to the justice system, as well as to legal aid service providing organizations. In Cambodia, IBJ is the only NGO dedicated to provide criminal legal aid to all accused persons. Other legal aid organizations’ services include civil legal aid or target specialized groups such as women and/or children. Increasing demand for legal aid in criminal cases is not met by the present services. Altogether my trip to Cambodia was memorable, inspiring, and gave me hope for IBJ’s efforts to make a real difference throughout the criminal justice system in the future.