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Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Legal Profession
map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

A new Vietnamese constitution was approved in April 1992, reaffirming the central role of the Communist Party in politics and society, and outlining government reorganization and increased economic freedom. Though Vietnam remains a one-party state, adherence to ideological orthodoxy has become less important than economic development as a national priority.

The most important powers within the Vietnamese Government--in addition to the Communist Party--are the executive agencies created by the 1992 constitution: the offices of the president and the prime minister. The Vietnamese President, presently Tran Duc Luong, functions as head of state but also serves as the nominal commander of the armed forces and chairman of the Council on National Defense and Security. The Prime Minister of Vietnam, presently Phan Van Khai, heads a cabinet currently composed of four deputy prime ministers and the heads of 31 ministries and commissions, all confirmed by the National Assembly.

Notwithstanding the 1992 Constitution's reaffirmation of the central role of the Communist Party, the National Assembly, according to the Constitution, is the highest representative body of the people and the only organization with legislative powers. It has a broad mandate to oversee all government functions. Once seen as little more than a rubber stamp, the National Assembly has become more vocal and assertive in exercising its authority over lawmaking, particularly in the recent years. However, the National Assembly is still subject to party direction. About 80% of the deputies in the National Assembly are party members. The assembly meets twice yearly for 7-10 weeks each time; elections for members are held every 5 years.

A Party Congress, comprised of 1,168 delegates at the Ninth Party Congress in April 2001, meets every 5 years to set the direction of the party and the government. The 150-member Central Committee, which was elected by the Party Congress, usually meets at least twice a year.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Vietnamese judiciary consists of the Supreme People's Court, the local people's courts, military tribunals, and other tribunals established by law. Each district throughout the country has a district people's court, which serves as the court of first instance for most domestic, civil, and criminal cases. Each province has a Provincial People's Court, which serves as the appellate forum for district court cases, as well as courts of first instance for other cases. The SPC is the highest court of appeal and review. The Ministry of Justice administers most district and provincial courts, and the National Assembly administers the SPC. The judiciary also includes military tribunals, economic courts, labor courts, and administrative courts that resolve disputes in those specialized fields. Administrative courts deal with complaints by citizens about official abuse and corruption. The economic and administrative courts have addressed few cases since their creation in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Local mass organizations, such as those under the Fatherland Front, are empowered to deal with minor breaches of law or disputes. In addition the CPV and Government have set up special committees to help resolve local disputes.

The Supreme People's Procuracy has unchecked power to bring charges against the accused and serves as prosecutor during trials. A judging council, made up of a judge and one or more people's jurors (lay judges), determines guilt or innocence and also passes sentence on the convicted. The relevant people's council appoints people's jurors, who are required to have high moral standards but need not have legal training.

There is a shortage of trained lawyers and judges and no independent bar association. At the Supreme Court level, there is a 10 to 20 percent shortage of qualified judges; at the provincial level, the shortage ranges from 30 to 40 percent, according to a U.N. official. Low salaries hinder development of a trained judiciary. The few judges who have formal legal training often have studied abroad in countries with Socialist legal traditions and are slow to change.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession

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