Established in 2008, the Vietnam Bar Federation has operated to represent the will and protect lawful interests of Vietnamese lawyers and bar associations across the country toward achieving the purpose of protecting justice. This article reviews Vietnam Bar Federation’s performance in the past years and puts forth directions for its development.
Do Ngoc Thinh, LL.D
Vice Chairman - Secretary General
Vietnam Bar Federation
The Vietnam Bar Federation (VBF), the central body of the 63 provincial and municipal bar associations nationwide, was officially established on January 16, 2008, under the Prime Minister’s Decision No. 76/QD-TTg. One year later, in May 2009, the first National Lawyers’ Congress was organized in Hanoi. At the congress, 93 lawyers were elected to the National Lawyer’ Council, the highest body operating during the interval between two congresses. The National Lawyers’ Council later formed a standing committee, which was composed of 21 lawyers chosen from its members, to deal with day-to-day affairs. The president and four vice presidents of VBF were elected from the members of the standing committee. A vice president concurrently acts as secretary general.
In addition to its head office in Hanoi, VBF has a representative office in Ho Chi Minh City. The federation has a number professional and assisting bodies, namely the Committee for Protection of Lawyers’ Interests, the Supervision, Reward and Discipline Committee, the Committee for Training and Law Education and Dissemination, the International Cooperation Committee, the Economic and Financial Development Committee, the Lawyers’ Professional Training Center, the Legal Consulting Center and the Vietnam Lawyers Journal.
Right after completing the building and consolidation of its organizational apparatus, VBF concentrated its efforts on implementing the resolution adopted at the first National Lawyers’ Congress, focusing on increasing the number and improving the qualifications of lawyers and building a professional code of ethics.
From 2009 to 2014, the number of lawyers has increased from approximately 5,300 to around 9,000. The number of legal practice institutions has jumped from 1,955 to 3,408, including 2,322 lawyers’ offices and 1,086 law firms. Among these law firms, VILAF Hong Duc, YKVN, Bizlink, Pham & Associates, INVENCO and SMIC have gained prestige among the public as well as the business community and foreign investors for their high-quality legal services. Sixty five professional knowledge and skills training courses have been organized by VBF with the participation of over 4,500 lawyers.
Leaders of Vietnam Bar Federation receive a Lao judicial service delegation __Photo: Vietnam Bar Federation
Together with the task of developing the pool of lawyers, VBF, as a socio-professional organization representing lawyers nationwide, has paid special attention to protecting lawyers’ right to lawful professional practice.
It is a reality that many lawyers have encountered difficulties in their professional operations, especially when they participate in legal proceedings. For example, although the Law on Lawyers and the Criminal Procedure Code stipulate in detail lawyers’ rights and obligations in legal proceedings, procedure-conducting agencies still sometimes hesitate about the involvement of lawyers, delaying the grant of defense counsel certificates to lawyers or even hindering their presence when their clients are questioned or interrogated. Over the last few years, VBF and bar associations have received hundreds of petitions filed by lawyers to request protection of their lawful professional practice. To protect its members, VBF has requested procedure-conducting agencies, especially investigative agencies and procuracies, to consider and deal with every petition, removing difficulties facing lawyers in their legal practice and handling violators.
While sparing no effort to guarantee its members’ lawful practice, VBF has kept a close eye on their observance of the Code of Professional Ethics and Conduct, which was issued in 2011 as guidelines for ethical issues facing lawyers. The federation has so far settled more than 300 complaints and denunciations related to illegal and unethical conduct by lawyers, and disbarred 20 violating lawyers.
Being a socio-professional organization operating in the legal sector, VBF has made great contributions to the building and improvement of the country’s legal system, playing an active role in the drafting of the 2013 Constitution and a number of major laws such as the Penal Code, the Civil Code, the Land Law, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Civil Procedure Code and the Law on Lawyers. Since 2011, it has joined the administrative reform project initiated by the Prime Minister and was conferred a certificate of merit for its contribution. VBF has also played an active role in the provision of legal aid services to social policy beneficiaries, the poor and the disadvantaged.
Until now, VBF has established and expanded cooperation relationships with dozens of foreign lawyers’ unions and Vietnam-based international organizations, thus opening up plenty of opportunities for Vietnamese lawyers to work with experienced foreign lawyers so as to improve their professional knowledge and skills.
Thanks to its constant efforts, VBF has managed to improve the image of Vietnamese lawyers among the public and build confidence about their role in the protection of justice and construction of a socialist law-ruled state.
Lawyer Nguyen Minh Tam, Deputy General Secretary of Vietnam Bar Federation, reads the Declaration at the meeting __Photo: Vietnam Bar Association
The second National Lawyers’ Congress is going to be held in the third quarter of this year in a changing context. The national economy is declining and the GDP annual growth rate reduces from 8-9 to 5-6 percent. This situation has exerted adverse impacts on, and may even inhibit the development of, the legal-service market unless it is remedied in the coming time.
However, despite immediate difficulties, the legal profession undoubtedly has a bright future in Vietnam. With the spirit of improving the quality of the adversarial process and advocacy at court hearings, considering it a breakthrough in judicial reform, the Political Bureau’s Resolution No. 49-NQ/TW, approving the judicial reform strategy up to 2020, has set orientations and paved the way for the formulation of the law on lawyers and the legal profession. The 2013 Constitution stipulates: “The adversarial principle shall be guaranteed in trials” and “the right of the accused or defendant to a defense, and the right of involved parties to protect their legitimate interests, shall be guaranteed” (Clauses 5 and 7, Article 103). Such provisions can be regarded as the legal foundation for the comprehensive revision of laws and regulations governing lawyers and the legal profession toward developing a strong contingent of Vietnamese lawyers and facilitating their professional practice.
In this context, the upcoming National Lawyers’ Congress will discuss solutions to further strengthen and improve the role of VBF in the legal community as well as the society as a whole.
Leaders of Vietnam Bar Federation at a meeting with the Working Team of the Central Steering Committee for Judicial Reform __Photo: Doan Tan/VNA
To this end, VBF’s organizational apparatus should be consolidated and improved toward professionalism and effectiveness. At present, all members of VBF’s professional committees work on a part-time basis and, therefore, can hardly ensure work efficiency as desired. To address this issue, it is necessary to specify the amount of time which lawyers elected as leaders of VBF should devote to its operations. Those who cannot arrange time should not be nominated for these important positions.
With a view to improving the qualifications of Vietnamese lawyers, VBF should further concentrate efforts on the organization of professional knowledge, skills and ethics training courses for lawyers. Each lawyer should be required to spend at least two days in a year to attend professional training. In addition, in order to help domestic lawyers to become capable of participating in international integration, VBF should strengthen and expand its cooperation relations with international partners so as to make use of their assistance and, at the same time, create more overseas study opportunities for its members.
To raise its prestige and gain lawyers’ confidence, VBF should pay more attention to the protection of lawyers’ lawful rights and interests. To this end, mechanisms for protection of lawyers’ lawful professional practice and coordination among VBF, bar associations, legal practice institutions, procedure-conducting agencies and other state agencies should be created.
VBF should also proactively participate in law making, education and dissemination, legal aid provision as well as other social movements launched by the Party, the State and Vietnam Fatherland Front, thus enhancing its position and image among the public. Furthermore, communication about VBF and lawyers’ professional practice should be intensified so as to raise public awareness about lawyers’ contributions to judicial activities and provision of quality legal services to the society.
In sum, VBF will strive to build itself into a solidarity bloc of lawyers all over the country so as to continue to successfully perform the tasks of representing the will and protecting lawful rights and interests of its members, so as to cement its position before the State and people and in the domestic and international legal-service markets.-