Lawyer’s room set to ensure confidentiality

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A lawyer’s room at Palin provincial prison. Photo supplied

Prisons across Cambodia now have consultation rooms for lawyers and detainees to ensure confidentiality. They are available for use prior to trial.

Phon Thearin, an attorney, told The Post on February 24 that prior to the construction of these rooms, it was difficult for lawyers to meet with clients.

He said he was unable to conduct extensive legal consultations or maintain confidentiality due to a lack of places to meet and that this was inadvertently violating the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia’s (BAKC) code of professional conduct.

He explained that clients would not tell their lawyers secrets or other information that might help their defence if they could not relay it to them privately because it might put them in danger if other prisoners knew that they had told even their own lawyers certain information.

Now, with the help of the BAKC – and with the support of Prime Minister Hun Sen – consultations can be done in private rooms in prison.

Thearin related that the consultation rooms are equipped with air conditioning, fans, tables and chairs and they have some stationary and other office supplies which enable the meetings to proceed productively and in an appropriate and confidential setting.

He said: “These consultation rooms have provided significant benefits . . . It gives clients confidence that the meeting is taking place for their benefit.”

Separately, lawyer Nhor Nhen said on February 24 that in Stung Treng Provincial Prison, there is also a dedicated room now for consultations with detainees.

He did not know the room’s exact size but he estimated that it is probably larger than 4m by 4m. He noted that the room has its own bathroom, an air conditioner, a table and three or four chairs.

He said that previously there was no lawyer’s room at all in the provincial prison. He had to meet with his clients by sitting outside the prison cell, making it difficult for him to consult with his clients as prison guards stood nearby in the hallway while the guards and other prisoners could overhear what they discussed.

“At that time, meetings took place in an open space and there was a lot of noise and other disturbances and it was especially difficult to ensure any confidentiality when providing advice to my clients,” he said.

Nhen said that with the new consultation room, both the clients and the lawyers were more comfortable speaking to each other and it ensured confidentiality when consulting with his clients.

He said that his clients were now able to confidently answer his questions and provide him with information that could help them with their defence because no one was listening in on the conversation.

Lim Chanlida, a lawyer and the BAKC construction committee chairwoman told The Post on February 24 that the plan to construct these rooms was initiated by Suon Visal, former president of the bar association.

She reiterated that “it is in accordance with the code of ethics as well as required by statute that lawyers and clients be able to have conversations without any third parties overhearing them”.

She stated that the consultation rooms’ construction and furnishings cost $165,550 and the project was funded by BAKC members, along with a generous gift of $70,000 from the prime minister.