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Cambodia - Rule of Law Program

Public interest legal advocacy: supporting class-action cases

The Public Interest Legal Advocacy Program’s (PILAP’s) class-action and public-interest approach to human rights violations was, and continues to be, novel in Cambodia. PILAP’s involvement in time-sensitive and high-profile cases and legal consultations earned significant attention from the media and the international legal development community. The program’s cases included the Kong Yu Case, the Koh Pich Case and the Group 78 Case.

In the Koh Pich Case, the PILAP team represented 78 families who lived on the island of Koh Pich as they sought fair compensation (as provided under the Cambodian constitution and the 2001 land law) in connection with a proposed redevelopment of their land. Koh Pich is directly offshore from downtown Phnom Penh, where there is substantial development potential, and the case was widely covered by the Cambodian media. Following extensive negotiations with City Hall, the development companies and its client base, the PILAP team settled this case for all but a few families in November 2005. The highly publicized, high-impact approach was one of the first collective legal actions in Cambodia to help a community assert its rights to land.

Legal Education Reform and Civic Education

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) worked to improve the quality of legal education in Cambodia’s primary educational institutions, including the Royal University for Law and Economics (RULE) and the Royal School for Judges and Prosecutors (RSJP). Our legal education advisor, Steve Austermiller, worked with faculty at RULE and the RSJP to introduce modern teaching methodologies and materials that focused on enhancing students’ practical lawyering skills and analytical reasoning capabilities. ABA ROLI worked in Cambodia as a subgrantee to the East-West Management Institute, under the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Program on Rights and Justice II (PRAJ II).

Hosting client counseling competition

In 2008, ABA ROLI organized the first client counseling competition in Cambodia. The contest has developed into an annual event, and in 2012, it was held for the fifth time. The competition places teams of law students in a simulated law office environment, challenging them to conduct a counseling session with an actor posing as a client. The competition allows participants to demonstrate their practical legal skills, such as active listening, interrogation, empathy, issue spotting, legal analysis, problem solving and teamwork, in front of a panel of local and international judges. ABA ROLI helped participating students prepare for the competition by conducting interactive client counseling workshops. The 2009 national champion team represented Cambodia in the International Client Counseling Competition.

Launching an advocacy-skills clinic

In July 2007, ABA ROLI launched an advocacy skills clinic with classroom and internship components. The classroom program had three topics—legal advocacy, land law and administrative law—and afforded participants an opportunity to take part in interactive exercises focusing on critical thought and practical skills. In the legal advocacy classes, students worked on a single hypothetical case throughout the lessons, honing their interviewing, brief writing, interrogation and case strategy skills. They further refined their skills by applying the lessons they learned to real land law and administrative law cases under the guidance of practicing attorneys and law professors.

As part of the internship component, students spent 80 hours at a non-governmental legal aid organization while maintaining a journal of their experiences. Students engaged in a variety of tasks, including attending client interviews, witnessing court appearances, helping gather evidence and attending workshops on land-dispute investigations. As of 2008, the internship program was modified into a field trip series during which students traveled to courts, law firms, the Arbitration Council and the War Crimes Tribunal to learn about real-life advocacy.

In 2008, the advocacy skills clinic further expanded to include an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) component. The class was immensely popular, leading ABA ROLI’s legal education advisor to develop a bilingual, Khmer-English ADR textbook, which was published in January 2009. The textbook is the first ADR resource of its kind for law students, legal practitioners and judicial officers.

Developing a legal-ethics class

In May 2007, ABA ROLI helped RULE develop a curriculum for Cambodia’s first legal ethics class. The curriculum incorporates philosophy of ethics, Buddhist ethics, lawyer ethics, judicial ethics and prosecutor ethics. ABA ROLI trained two RULE professors to teach the class and helped the university develop the student selection process. In the first year, more than 70 students applied for the 20 seats in the class.

Introducing interactive-teaching methodology

In 2006, ABA ROLI introduced 10 law professors at RULE to interactive teaching methods. ABA ROLI also helped the professors revise their curricula and lesson plans to make them more innovative and interactive, employing role plays, brainstorming, hypotheticals and case studies. By winter 2006, the professors had successfully developed more than 75 interactive lesson plans on various subjects—including family law, commercial law and ethics—which they implemented in the 2006–2007 academic year. The program allowed more than 300 students to benefit from the interactive classes every year. In August 2007, two private law schools—at the Norton University and the Cambodian Mekong University—adopted the approach, hosting interactive teaching workshops for 20 law professors at a time.

Organizing regional study tours

To train the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project’s (PILAP's) Cambodian staff, ABA ROLI hosted regional study tours. In 2005, PILAP attorneys were trained in the Philippines and Thailand. Such tours provided staff attorneys with opportunities to learn about legal non-governmental organizations in other Asian countries and the impact of their more open political systems and participatory attitudes.

Creating public service announcements

The PILAP team created three 60-second-long public service announcements (PSAs) targeting Cambodian youth aged 11–14. The PSAs, which aired throughout Cambodia in January and February 2007, were meant to raise the youth’s awareness about legal rights and responsibilities.

Hosting mock trial competition

In spring 2007, ABA ROLI developed Cambodia’s first mock trial competition, allowing students to practice important advocacy skills, such as logic, persuasion, interrogation and public speaking. Each of the seven Cambodian law schools participated in the contest, held at RULE’s newly built moot courtroom. The moot courtroom, the first of its kind in Cambodia, was an old auditorium that ABA ROLI helped transform into an exciting learning venue with almost 200 audience seats. Boasting state-of-the art audio and video facilities, the moot courtroom hosted a successful competition presided over by Cambodian and international judges. In 2008, the competition was repeated at the University of Cambodia and was attended by hundreds of law students and professors. Competitions continue with winning teams participating in international mock-trial competitions.

Clinical Legal Education through the Lawyer Training Center (LTC).

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) helped the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) in providing a 10-month-long mandatory practicum for new law graduates who wish to become members of the association and practicing attorneys. The practicum continues to be offered through the Lawyer Training Center, which the BAKC established with assistance from the Cambodian Ministry of Justice. The collaboration helped institutionalize clinical legal education in Cambodia, fostered substantive specialized skills in particular areas of human rights and encouraged professional commitment to public service among members of the bar.

The center was opened in 2002 with significant financial and technical support from the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) and additional support from the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) and the Bar of Lyon (France). In April 2004, ABA ROLI entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the BAKC, the JFBA and the CBA, and all parties have been coordinating their support for legal education in Cambodia.

In February 2005, the Lawyer Training Center’s legal clinic began providing services to those members of the community who could otherwise not afford legal representation. The clinic has since consulted and represented community members in a variety cases, including family law issues (marriage, paternity and adultery), property issues (land disputes), labor matters, debt and criminal matters (assault, property damage, possession of an illegal weapon and drug trafficking). Expanding its programs further, in 2006, the center commenced a Law Fellows Program, which places its recent graduates with local non-governmental organizations throughout the country for one year of supervised practice.