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Lawyers' Fees Dispute for Khmer Rouge Tribunal Resolved


The Cambodian Bar Association and international judges have agreed on the fees to be charged foreign defense lawyers in the coming trials of the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge. A dispute over the fees had threatened to derail the long-awaited trials. Rory Byrne reports from Phnom Penh.

After weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions, the Cambodian Bar Association has agreed to greatly reduce the fees it will charge foreign defense lawyers taking part in the tribunal. The decision opens the way to try former Khmer Rouge leaders, responsible for the deaths of almost two million Cambodians in the late 1970's.

Originally, the bar association had demanded that foreign lawyers pay a fee of $4,900 to join the association.

The tribunal's international judges said the fees were too high and there was a risk of mistrials because defendants could claim they were denied their legal right to the lawyer of their choice. The bar association, however, said the fees were fair in light of the salaries foreign lawyers will earn at the trial.

Now, the bar association has agreed to charge foreign lawyers a fee of $500.

Helen Jarvis is the spokeswoman for the tribunal, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia:

"Lots of people made their opinions known to the bar association, and to other people, both from governments, diplomats, lawyers and NGOs, and many observers seemed to think that the previous fee was too high, and in the end the bar council reconsidered it," she said. "I think that we should accept what they've said, that they believe that it's the best way forward and they don't want to stand in the way."

The international judges have declared they were satisfied with the new charges, which they said would not block international lawyers from registering with the Cambodian bar.

"I think we have to bear in mind that this is a national court and normally in a national court a lawyer would need to be a member of the national bar association and would have to pay a fee, and in different countries that varies, but it's usually some hundreds of dollars," added Jarvis. "So I don't think the $500 is by any means out of sync with normal national fees."

The United Nations, rights groups and the Cambodian government have worked for nearly a decade to create a tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge leaders. Funding shortages and disputes over the composition of the court delayed the effort, leading many activists to fear that the aging Maoists will die before they face justice.

All of the main disagreements have now been resolved. A plenary session to adopt the court's internal rules has been scheduled for the end of May. After that, legal proceedings can begin. However, the first defendant is not expected to appear before a judge until early next year.