Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court Nguyen Hoa Binh last month attended an international conference entitled “Judicial Excellence in Response to Today’s Challenges” in Bangkok, Thailand. Vietnam Law and Legal Forum would like to publish his speech delivered at this event, which highlights the recent endeavors of Vietnam’s court system to deliver court excellence as well as future policies for reform.
We are witnessing the vigorous development of cooperative ties among the courts of the regional countries via various multilateral forums, particularly the Council of ASEAN Chief Justices as an assembly recognized in the ASEAN Charter. We welcome and support the initiative of the Supreme Court of Thailand to hold the international conference under the title “Judicial Excellence in Response to Today’s Challenges”. This is a forum for us to share issues of common concern and provides an opportunity to further tighten the cooperative, cohesive and amicable ties among the courts as well as chief justices of the supreme courts of the regional countries.
We all agree that the core value of the court is to deliver justice for all and strengthen the public’s trust in justice. To attain that goal, the court’s activities must ensure equality before the law, and publicity, transparency, impartiality and independence in issuing rulings. Judges must be responsible and professional officers and a symbol of integrity. These are the common objectives and values which every court pursues with strategies and steps suitable to its nation’s development.
Vietnam has implemented its judicial reform strategy since 2005, putting the court at the center of the judicial reform and attaching the prime importance to the adjudicative work. After more than a decade of unceasing reforms, Vietnam has made significant achievements.
First, we promulgated in 2013 the new Constitution and passed in 2015 numerous important codes, such as the Penal Code, Civil Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Procedure Code and Administrative Procedure Code. These codes are characterized by the spirit of respecting and guaranteeing human rights and citizens’ rights. They have created an important legal cornerstone for the building and operation of a law-ruled state as well as the operation of the court system to protect human rights and citizens’ rights.
Radical reforms have also been seen in court proceedings, including intensifying the adversarial process, granting more rights to counseling lawyers, recognizing the principle of presumption of innocence, better protecting human rights, and so on.
Second, the court system has been transformed from a three-tier system into a four-tier one which now consists of the Supreme People’s Court, superior courts, provincial-level courts and district-level courts, which helps strengthen judicial independence.
Judicial administrative activities have been reformed after the single-window model so as to manage the adjudicative work in a more effective manner, thus facilitating the people’s and businesses’ access to the court.
Third, the pool of judges has been increased in number and improved in quality.
The mechanism of selecting, appointing and supervising judges has been improved. The standards for selection of judges have been raised and a national examination system has been established to select and promote the best judicial officers who possess high competence and good ethical qualities. A national council for judge selection, appointment and supervision has been formed. A more transparent and strict process of judge appointment has been developed. The term of office of judges has been lengthened from five years to 10 years in order to enhance their independence. A code of judicial ethics conformable with the international standards on publicity, transparency and judicial independence has been adopted.
The Vietnam Court Academy is now capable of meeting the needs for high-quality human resources to serve the national development and international integration.
Fourth, more investments have been made in building or renovating the courthouses at all levels nationwide. Modern working equipment have been furbished for the courts to serve the computerization of their operations.
Fifth, many new solutions and policies have been introduced.
Legally effective judgments have been published on the Internet and a database for judgment management has been put in place. Since July 1, 2017, 136,225 judgments have been published with more than six million views.
Court precedents have been selected and developed and an online database on court precedents has been built to ensure the uniform application of law. The Supreme People’s Court has adopted a resolution on the selection, publication and application of court precedents. To date, Vietnam’s first 16 court precedents have been published. The website on court precedents has had over 300,000 hits since its debut.
The adversarial process has been strengthened. Court hearings have a new layout and the court proceedings have been reformed. More rights have been granted to counseling lawyers while the burden of seeking evidence and proof has been placed on involved parties. The adversarial process at court hearings has been reformed with giving more time for inquiries and arguments to the parties and their counsels.
The courts have increasingly applied information technology in their activities. We are taking initial steps in building e-courts, such as allowing the online sending and receipt of lawsuit petitions and related documents (e-lodgement) and service of court notifications.
The alternative dispute resolution has been intensified. Recently, we have piloted the mechanism of pre-trial conciliation with good results: Around three-quarters of total cases have been successfully conciliated.
Sixth, regarding international cooperation, the Supreme People’s Court has proactively participated in the multilateral and bilateral forums such as the Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific and the Council of ASEAN Chief Justices, and strongly developed bilateral cooperative ties with the supreme courts of other countries. As a result, the prestige of the Supreme People’s Court of Vietnam in the international judicial community has been remarkably raised.
However, in the context of international economic integration, the Vietnamese courts are facing numerous challenges, especially the following four:
The first challenge lies in the fact that violations and crimes in a country increase in direct proportion to the size of its population and economy. To some extent, the socio-economic development and population growth put pressure on the judicial system. Over the past decade, Vietnam’s economy has doubled in size while its population has reached over 90 million. In the same period, the number of legal cases of all types has increased 8-10 percent year on year, and has doubled since 2012. Meanwhile, the judicial staff payroll remains unchanged.
The second challenge is that the process of deep and wide international integration is unfolding in all areas, which has delivered numerous development opportunities for countries. This process has also resulted in the globalization of violations and crimes. Civil and commercial disputes have become transnational, civic relations and exchange no longer depend on citizenship and crimes have become borderless. This reality points to the fact that unilateral efforts of one single country cannot thoroughly tackle crimes in the global integration era.
The third challenge is posed by the rapid development of science and technology, particularly information technology. Science and technology give rise to new, complicated issues, such as hi-tech crimes, cryptocurrency, Internet disputes, transnational business bankruptcy, etc., about which we have little knowledge and lack experience in their prevention and control and legal grounds for handling.
Climate change and environmental issues pose the fourth challenge. Some crimes and complicated disputes related to environmental pollution have emerged and had great impacts on not only individual nations but also the region and the world.
To cope with the above challenges, we should: