Bangkok, May 2, 2008 — Delegates Will Meet with The Asia Foundation’s Legal Aid Program and Thai Legal Organizations
Senior Law Experts from Laos to Visit Thailand Twelve delegates from the Lao Bar Association and associated legal groups will arrive in Thailand on Sunday, May 4, 2008, to begin a four-day observation trip of The Asia Foundation’s legal aid program in tsunami-affected areas and legal organizations in Thailand.
The trip is part of a recently-launched comprehensive legal aid and legal education program in Laos — supported by The Asia Foundation and funded by The McConnell Foundation — to help the Lao Bar Association improve its services, provide legal aid for poor and rural citizens, and increase professional and public understanding of laws and rights under Lao law. To expand services to rural areas and foster awareness about rights, the program will establish legal aid clinics in Champasak and Udomxai, and will also create the country’s first-ever mobile legal aid service and community legal educators to enhance legal education and outreach.
“This observation trip is an important preliminary step toward establishing a comprehensive legal aid system in the Lao PDR,” says Ms. Gretchen Kunze, Deputy Country Representative of The Asia Foundation. “We are extremely pleased to have such a distinguished group of professionals demonstrate their interest in improving legal services for all Lao citizens.”
The delegates will spend the first two days of their trip visiting The Asia Foundation’s Tsunami Rights and Legal Aid Referral Center (T-LAC) in southern Thailand, which will serve as the model for the new project with the Lao Bar Association. Since 2006, T-LAC has provided free legal aid outreach to over 5,750 people in tsunami-affected areas, offering services which include applications for death certificates of family members who have been missing since the tsunami, adoption or legal guardianship of tsunami orphans, settling land disputes and inheritances, and acquiring legal identity for unregistered Thai nationals.
“We learned many important lessons from creating a mechanism to help poor and rural citizens in Thailand gain access to legal assistance after the devastation of the tsunami,” says Ms. Ruengrawee Pichaikul Ketphol, a Senior Program Coordinator for The Asia Foundation. “We hope that through sharing ideas and information this delegation will learn about what has worked here, and then adapt the program to meet the specific needs of Laos.”
The core of the trip will be the delegates’ exposure to T-LAC’s successful formula of training community members to become paralegal volunteers. Though these volunteers have no prior legal education, T-LAC training workshops enable them to assist clients in rural areas where the number of lawyers is inadequate and knowledge of legal remedies is low – conditions which are similar to those in Laos. Using locally-based paralegal volunteers is an effective and sustainable way of providing communities with trusted sources of legal knowledge and advice that will continue long after the program formally ends.
At T-LAC’s office, the delegates will meet T-LAC staff and be introduced to the center’s legal services, strategies, and lessons learned. They will then travel through tsunami-affected areas meeting legal aid beneficiaries and learning about specific legal cases. At one provincial public prosecution office, the delegates will observe paralegal volunteers as they assist clients with legal procedures and help lawyers during a judge’s inquiry. They will also have a chance to hear first-hand experiences on legal matters from clients, lawyers, and T-LAC paralegal volunteers.
In Bangkok, the delegates will meet with the Women Lawyers Association of Thailand, who will provide an overview of the association’s wide range of family mediation, alternative dispute resolution, legal counseling, and legal aid services which focus mostly on family matters and violence against women. Delegates will also meet with the Law Society of Thailand to learn about organizational development and program implementation. Finally, the trip will culminate with a session with the Department of Rights and Liberty Protection at Thailand’s Ministry of Justice for an overview of the department’s legal aid services, legal education, and community-based justice volunteers program.
Lao delegates taking part in the trip are as follows:
– Head of the delegation team, Mr. Phoumi Sioudomphanh, President of the Lao Bar Association;
– Mr. Bouathong Changthamalinh, Head of Cabinet at the Supreme Court;
– Mr. Thongkham Savanhphet, Judge at the Vientiane Municipality Court;
– Mr. Somphay Keosouvanh, Head of the General Inspection Department at the Office of the Supreme People’s Prosecutors;
– Mr. Phimmasone Chanthachit, Legal Expert at the Department of Law Dissemination, Ministry of Justice;
– Mr. Vikone Bounvilay, Legal Expert of the Judicial Administrative System, Ministry of Justice;
– Mr. Vilasay Songvilay, Attorney of the Lao Bar Association;
– Mr. Bounthavy Khorayoke, Attorney of the Lao Bar Association;
– Mr. Somphou Keomounmany, Member of the Lao Bar Association Executive Committee;
– Ms. Douangmala Khamsongka, Law Professor at the National University of Laos;
– Mr. Onesy Bounmany, Head of the Investigation Division, Ministry of Public Security; and
– Ms. Thoummaly Vongphachanh, Director of the Counseling and Protection Center for Women and Children, Lao Women’s Union.