Correction system of a country governs the way, in which an offender is punished according to the due process of the law. The correction system of Vietnam follows the European civil law and consists of such judicial bodies as courts, for example, Supreme Court. Marxism-Leninism, Confucianism, and the Napoleonic Code influence the manner how criminals are treated in Vietnam.
The Justice System in Vietnam
The justice scheme in Vietnam is based on the court system, which is divided into the Supreme People’s Court, the Military Tribunals, the Provincial Municipal Court, and the Local Courts. The highest ranked judicial organ is the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), which has the final court of appeal and performs a supervisory role over the other courts (Hays, 2016). The national assembly regulates the courts’ budget and approves the president’s nominees to the Court and Supreme People’s Procuracy, which has the power to issue a warrant of arrest. The provincial and district courts, military courts, and labor courts are subordinated to the SPC in Vietnam’s court hierarchy. The local courts’ role is realized at all administrative levels, apart from the villages, where the judicial ability is practiced by village administrative committees. The courts have a period of thirty days before they conclude a case.
Challenges Facing the Vietnamese Justice System
Although the courts have maximum thirty days to conclude a case, suspects suffer in jail for years due to a pending trial, Moreover, some of them become political prisoners, as, for example, those, who are sentenced for propaganda (“Vietnam – Law Enforcement”, 2016). Persons, who are detained for politically sensitive cases, are not given the right of being represented by a lawyer and are never assumed guiltless until confirmed guilty as the rule dictates. In such situations the detainees are usually presumed guilty even before their case is heard. Despite the fact that the Vietnamese constitution provides judiciary independence, in reality it does not work, because the judges are selected according to a criterion of political dependability. The judge’s decisions are influenced by the political party, which gave him this position. There is also a scarcity of advocates in the judiciary, so that the death sentences are frequently passed for corruption and drug trafficking cases.
Vietnamese courts are controlled by the government and the Vietnam Communist Party. Due to this fact, sensitive political dissidents are tried in courts without a legal representative. According to the human rights observer, the trial process does not meet the international standards of a fair legal proceeding. A few defense attorneys, who take federal cases, are often harassed, intimidated, and even jailed. According to Amnesty International the judicial process in Vietnam is partial and dependent on the government. The committee of the UN Human Rights believes that the justice system remains weak because of a low number of the qualified legal representatives and a lack of resources to deal with the political pressure (Hays, 2016).
The duration of investigations depends on the nature of the offense. The trial of less severe crimes, which are punished by maximum three years in jail, lasts for three months, the investigation of serious crimes, punished by a death penalty or minimum fifteen years imprisonment can take up to sixteen months, and finally the inquiry of national security cases can take up to two years or more (Hays, 2016). It is permitted by law to have the right for a lawyer representation, but the Vietnams authority use delay tactics to deprive the detainees of the access to an advocate. In cases that fall the under national security, detained persons are not allowed to access a legal counsel before the investigation is completed, and when the accused is already charged with a crime, it takes approximately four months. In reality, only offenders sentenced to a capital punishment and juveniles are assigned a legal counsel.
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According to Vietnamese laws, a defendant must request for the presence of his advocate, and only then the advocate is allowed to attend any questioning of his client. However, the authority fails to inform the defendants about this right, so most of them end up not being represented by a legal counsel during the interrogations (Hays, 2016). Advocates are allowed by law to access case files and court documents relevant to their case and even to make copies if needed, but these rights are not always practiced. Family members can only visit a defendant, who has been detained by the police, when the permission is granted by the investigator of that particular case, and it is not as readily given as the family members wish. Investigators usually deny access to family members during the trial, but they allow notifying the family of the detainment. Persons charged with national security offenses do not have a right neither for a bail grant nor for any other systematic release before the case is concluded, but the time, spent in the pre-trial institution, is included to the sentence given.
The police can make a proposal to the provincial and local chairperson of the people’s committee to pass sentence without any trial. The judgment may impose jail terms varying from six to twenty-four months in a juvenile reform center or detention centers for the adults. It was mostly proposed for minor offenses of repeated offenders, drug addicts, or prostitutes and had a standard term of twenty-four months (Hays, 2016). Administrative probation can also be enforced by the chairperson, and it restricts the movement and travel of the subject person. The judges can also give an administrative detention of maximum five years. Individuals, who are condemned to staying in detention centers, have to work in order to compensate the detention costs and facilities.
The Trial Procedure
According to the law, the accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, it is not the case in Vietnam as many advocates have raised complaints that judges presume the defendant guilty before the completion of the case. The trials are usually open to the citizens with the exception of sensitive cases, which are conducted without public knowledge and with limited attendance (Hays, 2016).
The prosecutor lays an accusation against the defendant in the trial, and the defendant has the right of an advocate. Juvenile offenders as well as the accused that may be condemned to a capital punishment and are not able to afford a legal counsel are the only people who are provided with an advocate. In this case the defense attorney has the right to cross-examine a witness, challenge statements, and access evidence before the trial but in other cases they are deprived of these rights. The defense attorneys are given a little time to present their arguments and at times are interrupted by the judge while making their arguments. The sentenced person has the right to appeal to a higher court. The subordinate courts do not publish their trials, but the SPC publishes each case it reviews. Human rights advocates may face difficulties when presenting religious or democratic activists as, for example, happened on August 12, when Huynh Van Dong was dismissed by Dak Lak Bar Association for serving as a lawyer of two persons accused of serious acts against the government (Hays, 2016).
Civil Procedures and Remedies
Civil cases are heard and determined by the subordinate courts with the approval of an officer who receives a complaint when a permission to proceed with the case is needed. If he does not give a permission, the complainant can proceed to a superior officer. When permission is granted, it is taken to the administrative court, which decides whether or not it should be directed to the civil court for examination (Hays, 2016). This process ensures that public has a small practical choice of civil procedures to remedy human rights’ violation.
The Death Penalty
The Vietnamese laws provide for the death penalty for hard crimes such as drug trafficking. The Vietnamese government believes that the death penalty maintains peaceful co-existence in the state and thus must be enforced when an individual was sentenced to it. The country switched from firing squads to using lethal injection due to humanistic grounds. In 2013, seven hundred people were condemned to death for offenses related to drugs (Hays, 2016). The government treats death penalty as a secret of the state, thus, it was difficult to get statistics of death sentences and the crimes leading to capital punishment. In 2002, a man, who imitated to be a traditional medicine doctor, intentionally poisoned four people and stole from them. He was executed in Southern Vietnam by firing squad. Pham Thanh appealed for presidential clemency, but it was rejected (Hays, 2016).
In 1998, three businesspeople, who were convicted of corruption, were awakened in their cells, offered a last meal and cigarettes, and given a chance to write a final note. They were then publicly executed in front of people (Hays, 2016). Crimes that are punished by death include drug trafficking, aggravated murder, child rape, economic crimes that do not result in death, robbery, treason, military offenses, and espionage. Persons, who are exempted from death penalty, include mentally ill people not capable of controlling their acts, pregnant women, women with small children, who are under the age of three years, and persons below the age of eighteen. Apart from the mentally retarded people, who are not criminally liable, other groups of individuals are sentenced to life incarceration.
Problems Facing Police and Detainment Department
In Vietnam it is reported that police brutality is at a high rate, and innocent people are dying in custody. For example, in 2011 thirteen people were killed (Cima, 1989). Tortures are used by police in all parts of the state. Detainees in political and religious sensitive cases are usually tortured during questioning. Administrative detention, which occurs without a trial, is encouraged by Vietnamese law. It ensures that people, who are considered to be a threat to national security, can be involuntarily detained, placed under a house arrest, or taken to a mental institution.
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Drug addicts can be placed in detention centers, where they have to undergo a labor therapy, which is considered as a treatment. The detention centers also accommodate children, who are at least twelve years old. It does not include any due process of law and breach of custody rules is punished by beatings, electric batons shocks, lock-ups, and deprivation of water and food (Hays, 2016). The detainees are usually forced to work at agricultural processing farms and manufacturing companies.
In conclusion, the Vietnamese laws seem to cater for the accused by providing them with certain rights, for example, the right for an attorney, but in practice, the written law is not implemented. Defendants suffer from the police and are deprived of their rights. The death penalty is widely used for several offenses and is considered as a peacekeeping mechanism. Although the international world fights against the Vietnamese correction system, the government still sees its system as the most suitable one for the country.