During the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, Cambodia’s legal system was completely destroyed.
Legislators, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other intellectuals were executed by the Khmer Rouge or were deceased as a result of starvation, disease, or forced labor. Law books were burned, and courthouses were converted to slaughterhouses. Only a handful of legal personnel were known to have survived the brutal period. As a result, the country faced and continues to face a severe shortage of lawyers and trained professionals with the ability to provide legal services to the indigent.
Recognizing this need, the Cambodian Defenders Project was established in 1994 by foreign experts, which trained legal defenders to represent imprisoned Cambodians who could not afford to pay for legal services. These trained defenders provided the first legal aid service in over two decades, and they subsequently became lawyers after the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia started admitting lawyers in 1995.
LAC was established in December 1995 as a Khmer-run initiative to provide legal services for the poor, with its main office in Phnom Penh and various branch offices around the country. In 1996, LAC handled over 690 criminal and civil cases, which grew to 2,500 cases within 4 years.
The organization faced tremendous financial difficulty in 2016 as a result of the changing situation of Cambodia and priorities of donors, leading to the closure of many of its branch offices. However, it has continued to provide legal services around the country to the best of its abilities, and LAC strives to ensure that it fulfills its mission of supporting and protecting those in need.