Vietnam Country Background
The Vietnamese government has demonstrated a strong commitment and dedication to ensuring social and political stability as well as economic progress, as evidenced by the policies and changes implemented over the years. The introduction of Doi Moi (reform) in 1986 has put Vietnam in a position to prosper and flourish economically. The legal system is under revision, as demonstrated by the 1992 Constitution and 1988 Criminal Procedure Code. More recently, Vietnam became the 150th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).With these new developments, Vietnam is in the process of bringing its legal system up to international standards and is introducing many new laws and needs help to implement them. Improvements in laws relating to legal aid and rights of lawyers, too, while providing new opportunities, also create more needs for training, in terms of lawyers’ professional skills.
Committed to responding to these needs, IBJ accomplished a major “first” in April 2004, by holding Vietnam’s first ever criminal lawyers’ training program. Organized in cooperation with the Vietnamese Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Hanoi Bar Association (HBA), the event involved 200 participants and several international legal experts who volunteered as trainers.
IBJ Programming in Vietnam
At the training, international volunteer trainers covered topics such as case investigation, client interviews, theories of defense, motions practice, trial skills and burden of proof, as well as methodologies and strategies for organizational development of legal aid.
Defender training has always been the centerpiece of IBJ’s support for defense attorneys. IBJ has begun to help fill an important gap in the fairness of the criminal justice system and made a step towards ensuring the respect of due process. This IBJ training program, which represented the first foreign review and aid to the Vietnamese criminal defense bar in the post-colonial era, attracted significant and positive attention in the Vietnamese press. It also allowed us to conduct a first-hand legal needs assessment by surveying those working in the criminal defense field.
The event was especially timely since amendments made to Vietnam’s Criminal Procedure Code in November 2003, which took effect in July 2004. Perhaps of most significance in this reform is the introduction of an adversarial system in place of the previous closed, inquisitorial and Party-controlled system. Other important reforms include increasing the rights of the defense counsel to access prosecution documents, challenge and submit evidence and to question police, investigators, and prosecution witnesses.
Of specific concern in the development of the Vietnamese criminal justice system has been the lack of support directed towards defense lawyers. Judges, prosecutors, investigators and police have all received assistance, to the exclusion of the defense bar. This problem has been compounded by the lack of international support for criminal defense lawyers, as it is more straightforward to support and fund government ministries and departments than individual independent lawyers. Consequently, the international aid given has been skewed away from defense lawyers. This judicial imbalance constitutes a clear menace to due process, especially with the inauguration of an adversarial system under the new CPC.
With these difficulties in mind, the importance of IBJ’s contribution to the creation of properly trained defense representatives in Vietnam through its training scheme becomes apparent. Building on IBJ’s experiences in China, a “train the trainer” approach was taken in the workshops so the experiences gained could be passed on later to a greater number of criminal defenders and legal aid lawyers than IBJ could hope to train in a few sessions.
Training Program Objectives and Methods
The IBJ delegation presented the students with a comprehensive “crash course” in criminal defense skills in the following areas:
- Introduction of new articles in the Amended CPC, including important changes in lawyers’ rights to participate in the litigation process according to this amended code and guidelines on exercising these rights
- The philosophy of defense advocacy: is your job the “truth” or protecting your client’s rights?
- Group discussion for the sharing of experiences
- Initial and follow-up client interview skills
- Fact investigation strategies, use of expert witnesses and forensics
- Conceiving and drafting motions and other pleadings
- Developing a “theory of the case” from the defense point of view, as well as case preparation
- Advocacy skills, including conduct of opening statements and closing arguments
- Technical skills for conducting direct and cross examination of witnesses
The training was carried out through a combination of lectures, role-play exercises, discussions and question and answer sessions. Comprehensive training materials were also utilized to support the training activities, both as reference tools and discussion material.
The training workshops ended with discussion sessions focused on action plans for further work in criminal defense, the difficulties faced by lawyers in criminal litigations, suggestion for improvement and how to upgrade lawyers skills and further training.
According to participants, what appeared to be most successful about the workshop was that it had shown, for the first time, a new perspective on criminal defense, an area much underdeveloped in Vietnam. The training materials allowed lawyers to approach criminal defense more confidently as they became more aware of their status and could look more creatively from different perspectives and explore alternative solutions in hypothetical situations. The workshop also introduced advanced techniques for trial, which previously lawyers in Vietnam hardly had a chance to see in practice because of the inquisitorial nature of the justice system.