Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Bar’s Rule of Law

“We always respect the WTO commitments, but that doesn’t mean foreign lawyers can practice their profession here without respecting the laws of Cambodia. They are just required to be registered, like in other countries, and the U.S. Embassy should reconsider and do some…legal research. If it is necessary to take legal action, I will file a suit.”

BAKC (Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia) president Bun Honn, 29 April 2015, the Cambodia Daily

“Cambodia has opened up its services sector per our WTO commitments but they [foreign lawyers] are still subject to domestic regulations. Opening up a service sector does not mean free and unregulated entry.”

Cambodian WTO lead negotiator Dr Sok Siphana, 3 May 2015, Campro Forum

“I note that a number of foreign advisors who are not even admitted to the Bar in their home countries or countries of origin, and do not have capacity to read Khmer legislative texts, are trying to mislead some government authorities, investors and the public here and there including their countrymen in Cambodia or at their home countries, that they are allowed to legally practice laws in Cambodia and solicit the engagement of their services in obvious disregard of Cambodian laws and the WTO provisions. [Sic]”

Former BAKC secretary-general and HBS LAW Managing Director Ly Tayseng, 5 May 2015, Campro Forum

The outcry for the rule of law, which is so common among blue-collar workers and victims of land grabbing, development, etc…, has spread to legal practitioners. It remains to be seen if the intelligentsia would do any better.

The BAKC, which is a union for lawyers, is convinced legal powers are on their side. The 1995 Law on the Bar Statutes empowers them to control the legal profession in the country. It is compulsory for all lawyers to register with the Bar before they can open up their shop. Architect of the Cambodia’s WTO membership Sok Siphana emphatically rejects a notion that WTO regulations can overshadow the local ones.

In their 8 Dec 2014 statement, the Bar extol the virtue of the rule of law, and seek to enforce their compulsory membership on some 50 or so foreign lawyers who have been practising their trade in Cambodia without the registration. And, the foreigners object.

They may have reasons for the objection. If professional contempt is one of them, then the Bar ought to look at themselves.

It is possible the Bar have failed to do enough for the legal profession to command respect. They have ignored the foreign lawyers registration for twenty years – long enough to convince anyone that the Bar has perpetually broken its own regulations and obligations. Now they preach the rule of law, after breeding a sentiment that if the Bar can break them, so can others.

The Bar’s actions to rein in the foreign lawyers seem feeble. They appear to beg the violators to register “as soon as possible” – without imposing any deadline, leaving an impression that time is on the violators’ side. Bun Honn says he will drag them to court only if necessary, without realising that breaking a law is all it needs to be necessary. He may not be confident the court will apply the rule of law, despite claims that some foreign lawyers are not even registered in their own country. The Bar is riddled with doubts.

Indeed, it may take the Bar another twenty years to complete the registration, which gives much comfort to those who would argue “Rome is not built in a day” for any procrastination.

Beneath this Bar’s sudden urge to enforce the rule of law, there may lie a hidden commercial agenda. It seems bankruptcy is staring some local lawyers in the face. A long-standing lawyer who vigorously advocates the registration for all has already declared he is not making any money, and prepared to shut down his firm and drive taxi in the West for a living. Will the registration of the foreign lawyers really make his firm profitable?

If the Bar’s rhetoric is driven by commercial interests of their members, it will be amazing how a competition from the 50 odd foreign lawyers can drive some local lawyers up the wall and out of business. What can those 50 do that Bar’s members of almost 1,000, which include big names like premier Hun Sen, cannot?

Ung Bun Ang

Parthian Shot

It is understandable why Hun Sen refuses to pay when he loses his bet on the fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao. After all, five grand is almost half of his declared income under the anti-corruption law.

However, if he reneges on a lousy five grand for a simple reason that he does not like the referees’ decision against his interest, what will he do if he loses the next election? Or, what will he do to the elections to make sure he wins?

“Now if we are talking about yesterday’s fight, I owe you [$5,000], but I will not pay.”

Premier Hun Sen, 5 May 2015, the Cambodia Daily

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