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February 24, 2023

Vietnam: Law on Organization of People’s Courts Under Review for Future Amendment

On February 20, 2023, the Supreme People’s Court of Vietnam submitted a Practical Report on the Implementation of the Law on Organization of People’s Courts, as well as a Draft Amendment of the Law on Organization of People’s Courts to seek online comment from interested parties. Notably, the Supreme People’s Court has expressed a desire to establish specialized courts such as an IP court and a bankruptcy court.

Practical Report on the Implementation of the Law on Organization of People’s Courts

The Supreme People’s Court reviewed the implementation over the past eight years of the Law on Organization of People’s Courts (“LOPC”), which took effect in 2015. Some highlights of the implementation process, as set out in the Supreme People’s Court’s practical report, are as follows:

  • Re-systematization of all levels of courts: The LOPC systematized the court system in Vietnam, including four levels:
    1. Supreme People’s Court
    2. Three Superior People’s Courts
    3. 765 first-instance trial courts (including 702 district courts and 63 provincial courts)
    4. 66 appellate courts (including 63 provincial people’s courts and the three Superior People’s Courts)

    In addition, the Supreme People’s Court established four adjudicating agencies for cassation and reopening (including three Judicial Committees of the Superior People’s Court and the Council of Judges of the Supreme People’s Court).

  • Support departments for the court have been strengthened, and policies have been developed to train judges.
  • Trial results: From June 1, 2015, to April 30, 2022, the courts have settled 3,187,285 cases of all kinds out of a total of 3,334,915 cases handled (95.57%). Most of the remaining cases are newly accepted and still within the time limit for settlement as prescribed by law. On average, the courts have had to deal with about 476,416 cases each year.

Draft Amendment of Law on Organization of People’s Courts

Despite the notable accomplishments of the past eight years, a number of weaknesses were found to exist in the court system under the current LOPC. Based on its evaluation, the Supreme People’s Court decided to amend the LOPC to be in line with the current situation.

In its draft amendment of the LOPC, the Supreme People’s Court identified six major issues to resolve:

  1. Completing regulations on positions, functions, tasks, powers, and principles of organization and operation of the court.
  2. Completing regulations on the organization of the people’s court apparatus.
  3. Amending and supplementing the name, functions, tasks, and composition of the National Council for Selection and Supervision of Judges.
  4. Completing regulations on judicial titles in the people’s courts.
  5. Securing resources to build a modern, effective, and efficient court.
  6. Renovating and perfecting the mechanism for people’s participation in trials at court.

Among these six issues, two are of particular interest:

Issue 2: Completing regulations on the organization of the people’s court apparatus

The Supreme People’s Court wants to improve the organizational structure of the people’s court system. Thus, the new draft will focus on the following matters:

  • Superior People’s Court: The current organizational structure of the Superior People’s Court does not have specialized courts in specific areas such as intellectual property and bankruptcy. Hence, in the near future, the Supreme People’s Court would like to establish a separate intellectual property court.
  • Provincial people’s courts: The provincial people’s courts have both first-instance and appellate cases according to the provisions of law, and also examine the legally effective judgments and decisions of the provincial People’s Courts to recommend cassation, leading to an overly broad set of responsibilities and a lack of focus on certain stages of proceedings.
  • District-level people’s courts: The current district-level people’s court structure is still simple, with no specialized organization separating the settlement and adjudication of simple cases from the settlement and adjudication of cases requiring in-depth expertise (such as cases of intellectual property and bankruptcy).

Issue 5: Securing resources to build a modern, effective, and efficient court

According to the Supreme People’s Court, all levels of the court system are facing various difficulties. Particularly, the number of criminal cases, commercial disputes, and civil lawsuits requiring court settlement is increasing, with cases expanding in scale and complexity, while the number of judges and staff of the court remains very limited, leading to an overload of cases compared to the court’s capacity. In addition, the working conditions and facilities of the courts are still subpar or lacking, and not enough attention has been paid to ensuring they properly meet the functions and tasks of the people’s courts. The remuneration regime for judges and other judicial positions is not satisfactory compared to their working capacity, responsibilities, and occupational risks.

Vietnam’s court system is independent of the legislative and executive bodies, not belonging to the government or to ministerial-level agencies or branches. However, the mechanism for allocating funds to the court depends on the government, which leads to a prolonged process of approving the budget, limiting the proactive management and use of the court’s budget in the implementation of the law. In particular, this mechanism also leads to a misperception about the role of the court, affecting its independence.

To solve this problem, the Supreme People’s Court has considered increasing the number of judges, and building a system of budget equalization transfers from the central to the provincial courts. This effort will hopefully decrease the number of pending suits at court.

The Supreme People’s Court is collecting comments on this draft on its online portal.

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