HCMC: Reviewing judicial reform

The Politburo in February 26, 2005 announced resolution 49-NQ/TƯ, the strategy to reform the judicial system by 2020, to consolidate and improve the law system and strengthen a legitimate state in the form of socialist political institutions.

A law court in HCM City. The judgment of law courts in the city has improved the last three years but is not comprehensive. (Photo: SGGP)

The resolution determined that the criminal law courts were central in the progress of reforming the judicial system and trials as the focus to build a firm judiciary. Three years after the beginnings of judicial reform, the trial quality of the Ho Chi Minh City’s court has considerably improved. However, there are still some problems.

Listening to both sides

In 2008, the city’s court dealt with 31,736 cases out of a total of 41,413. Although the number of cases needed to be handled was very high, fulfilling around one sixth of the country’s cases, the city court still ensured the quality of trials.

The number of sentences of HCM City People’s Court quashed by the Supreme People’s Court have has been reduced over the past few years.

The number of sentences quashed or adjusted were 0.48 percent of and 0.9 percent in 2007and 0.35 and 0.55 percent in 2008 respectively. These numbers are lower than the maximum level stipulated Supreme People’s Court.

In 2008 the City People’s Court had said no case had received an unjust sentence.

Bui Hoang Danh, the HCM City people’s tribunal president, said that one of the keys to improve trial quality is conducting procedural and debating principle in the courts. Juries still asked questions that helped the People’s Procuracy.

After hearing arguments from members of the procuracy and defense lawyers, the jury should be impartial and consider all the evidence before giving its verdict.

After listening to both sides, the jury can judge the essence of the case and give convincing and just sentences, Danh said.

However, many defense lawyers said that not all arguments were fairly listened to. Some courts still had a jury that acted like a second public prosecutor. It has only served to reduce the arbitration role of the jury.

Lawyer Nguyen Thanh Cong, from Dong Phuong  law firm, said the prosecution’s arguments were helped by partisan juries.

When the defense lawyers questioned or gave their argument, they would not receive the same sympathy from the jury and in some cases they would even say that questions were not relevant to the case.

Limit on judgment needed or not

HCM City has submitted a proposal to the central government, a project to reorganize the court system.

According to the proposal, Vietnam would establish people’s court at four levels: supreme people’s court, superior court, court of appeals, and lower court in each region.

24 districts and suburban districts in the city will establish 10 regional lower courts. Each people’s court will include six divisions such as criminal court, civil court, administrative court, and court for minors.

The project aims to reduce fiscal waste, human resources and facilities, and create advantageous conditions for judgment.
According to the HCM City People’s Court, one of the difficulties of the trial system is regulation on judgment limits.

Clause 196 in the code of the criminal procedure stipulates that the law court can only judge the defendant on the accusations brought by the procuracy.

The law courts can only pass judgment on the seriousness of a crime equal to or lower than that sought by the prosecution.

This regulation has caused difficulties for the jury in the judgment process. Sometime the jury finds that the accused should be given a tougher sentence but the procuracy prosecuted at a lighter sentence level.

The case of Mai Van Dau is typical, if the case was based on immoral behavior, many former officials from the Ministry of Commerce ought to receive tougher punishment. However the jury was ashamed to announce light sentences.

In some other cases, there was sufficient evidence for murder convictions but the jury could only pass judgment on the less serious ‘intent to cause bodily harm,’ as the prosecution only charged the defendant with that particular crime.

Mr. Bui Hoang Danh said that the city people’s court had many times given a petition to adjust this regulation.

As the courts are “tied” to the prosecution’s decision on what can be prosecuted this is not central to judicial reform, Chef  judge Danh said.

Meanwhile, the procuracy said that the limit in judgment is necessary and should not be adjusted. If this regulation is removed, the court would have the right to judge the defendant with various levels of crimes with heavier punishments, this would lead to disorder.

If the procuracy prosecuted cases with leniency or heavy handedness, the court can reconsider the case.

While the court and the procuracy continue their arguments, many people still doubt the ability of courts to pass accurate judgments.

By Ai Chan – Translated by H.Mien

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