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Cablegate: Training Vietnam's Judges: More Work Needed

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: A) HCMC 0499 and previous

B) HANOI 0935
C) FBIS SEP20021128000048
D) 02 HANOI 2902

1. (U) Summary: The low quality of professional skills
among Vietnamese judges at all levels -- local, provincial
and national -- is a well-recognized problem (refs c & d).
Judges for the high-profile Nam Cam trial in Ho Chi Minh
City (ref a) were carefully picked from among the best
available throughout the country. Undergraduate legal
education became available only in 1979, and not until 1990
were new judges required to have even a bachelor's degree.
Efforts to provide intensive specialized training for judges
began in 1998 with the creation of a Ministry of Justice
(MOJ)-managed training school. The GVN is debating the
merits of establishing a National Judicial Training Academy
to help improve the quality of judges and other court
personnel. The GVN welcomes foreign technical assistance,
including from the U.S., to improve the quality of its
judges. End summary.

Humble beginnings

2. (U) Vietnam did not even have a Ministry of Justice
between 1960 and 1981; thereafter, it was considered a very
backwater and under-funded Ministry until at least the
1990s. (Its subsequent rise was demonstrated with its move
in 2002 to the elegantly refurbished -- at least on the
exterior -- old Soviet Embassy buildings on a major
thoroughfare.) No tertiary-level legal education was
available until 1979. Judges were not required to have a
bachelor-level degree -- in any field -- until 1990.

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Academic Training

3. (U) In Vietnam, academic legal education is offered
primarily by the Hanoi Law University, the Ho Chi Minh City
Law University, and the Law Faculty of Hanoi National
University, although smaller law faculties also exist at Hue
University, Can Tho University, Dalat University, and the
National Police Academy. The Hanoi Law University,
established in 1979, is the largest and most prestigious
legal education program in term of numbers of students and
lecturers. The Ho Chi Minh City Law University was
established in 1987, initially as a branch of the Hanoi Law
University. Private institutions are not yet allowed to
provide legal training, according to one law professor.
Vice Rector of the Hanoi Law University Le Hong Hanh told
poloffs that training at law colleges, even at the graduate
level, is abstract and not tailored for professional judges,
trial attorneys, prosecutors, or other court officials.
Graduates from law colleges are not trained for specific
functions such as being a prosecutor, he asserted. The
Police Academy, under the Ministry of Public Security (MPS),
reportedly provides a more vocational approach, but only for
MPS staff.

4. (U) The law bachelor's curriculum requires four years.
One and a half years are devoted to classes mandated by the
Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) for all Vietnamese
college students, including Marxist-Leninist ideology and Ho
Chi Minh thought, "scientific socialism," foreign languages,
and computer courses. There is a separate set of core
courses for all law students that provides basic courses in
various fields of law -- criminal, civil, family,
administrative, labor, land, financial, banking, and
international. The core law course also includes a set of
historical and comparative law classes covering theories of
relations between "the state and the law," culminating in a
specific study of state and law relations in Vietnam. This
sequence, together with the compulsory courses, places the
law and courts in the clear context of a state "guided" by
the CPV. The final part of the law school curriculum is
composed of specialized courses in the fields of law
mentioned above as well as related classes such as criminal
investigation, forensics, auditing, intellectual property,
and contracts.

5. (U) According to law professors, there is currently
some internal debate over how to handle "unclear issues" in
the curriculum over the CPV's future role in the kind of
"rule of law" state that Vietnam is becoming. The formal
curriculum still hews closely to "the Party line," but there
are a few "study groups" including professors and students
that discuss such issues "rather freely," according to some
foreign-educated professors.

Training the next generation of judges

6. (U) In January 2002, a CPV Politburo resolution on
"urgent judicial tasks" identified judicial training as a
national priority. Also in 2002, the National Assembly
revised the Ordinance on Judges and Lay Assessors to mandate
that all future judges hold a certificate from MOJ's
training school, which had been set up in 1998, prior to
appointment. (The requirement does not hold for sitting
judges.) Lay assessors, who also sit on court panels and
decide cases alongside judges, still receive very little
training (ref b).

7. (U) According to the MOJ school director, Dr. Phan Huu
Thu, there have been six sessions of these one-year courses
for "judges to be" thus far. Participants -- mostly court
clerks with several years of experience assisting judges
administratively -- are selected by district and provincial
courts for their potential to win appointment as judges.
They must also be otherwise qualified for the bench:
candidates must be "reliable," have a bachelor's degree in
law, be of "good character," and have at least four years
experience in the legal field for appointment to a district
court (six years for a provincial court). CPV membership is
not a formal requirement. Beginning in 2004, the school
will require an entrance exam to make sure that all
applicants are sufficient qualified academically, Thu said.
The school also has courses for other legal officials
including clerks of court, notaries, and executors (court
officials charged with ensuring that sentences are carried
out and that appeals are handled correctly).

8. (U) Dr. Thu said roughly 60 per cent of course
graduates had already been appointed to the bench. The
aspiring judges spend eight months in the classroom. Almost
all of this time is devoted to the Criminal Procedures Code
and on case studies based on it, as well as on
practicalities such as how to issue an arrest warrant.
According to Dr. Thu (who matriculated at a French law
school), the case study method used borrows elements from
France, Japan, Germany, and the U.S. Students then intern
for two and a half months at a court in their home province,
and devote the final month to preparing for and taking the
final exam. Apparently, nearly everyone passes.

9. (U) Dr. Thu claimed his school had already made
important contributions to improving the quality of new
judges, attorneys, and other court officials. However, he
expressed regret that the school is still unable to provide
in-service training for existing judges -- many of whom have
had little or no formal academic training. Nor has the
school provided training for specialized judges serving in
the Labor or Economic Courts. Management of trials is not
part of the curriculum, and very little attention is given
to the role of the judge.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Other Training for Court and Procuracy Officials
--------------------------------------------- ---

10. (U) The Supreme People's Court (SPC) and the Supreme
People's Procuracy (SPP) also manage separate schools
providing professional training for their respective staffs.
The SPC training school, established in 1994, is a modest
affair with just a few rotating trainers, providing only
short-term training. Serving judges teach the courses.
Some courses cover relevant laws for judges newly assigned
to various specialized courts. There are also general in-
service training courses lasting one to two months that
include topics ranging from how to interpret laws to
courtroom management. A main focus has been to provide at
least some training for pre-1990 appointees who often have
little or no formal training. SPC officials say that they
would like to expand the school, currently housed in four or
five dilapidated rooms of the SPC building in Hanoi, to
provide more thorough training, but lament that there is no
funding to do so.

11. (U) The SPP runs two "colleges" -- in Ho Chi Minh City
and in Hanoi -- providing both short-term and long-term
training for prosecutors and other Procuracy staff. The
colleges no longer offer bachelor's degree programs but
instead offer a one-year intensive course for Procuracy
employees who already have bachelor's degrees in law. This
certificate is now a requirement for appointment as a

A National Judicial Academy?

12. (U) According to Director Thu of the MOJ training
school, discussions are underway on the establishment of a
national judicial academy to provide advanced training for
all types of court officials, merging the separate
institutes under the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme
People's Court, and the Supreme People's Procuracy. At
present, the differing approaches of these schools
reportedly have led to a less than harmonious approach to
legal training. Thu said he personally favored putting the
academy under the Ministry of Justice.

13. (U) Le Huu The, Director of the SPP Procuratorial
Science Institute, and Nguyen Van Don, Director of the Hanoi
Procuracy College, separately dismissed the necessity of
making their training institutions part of a bigger academy.
Both pointed out that the training of employees must be in
line with the Procuracy's overall personnel plan and
underscored their discomfort with the idea of the MOJ
running an institution that would train Procuracy staff.

14. (U) Deputy Director Ngo Cuong of the SPC Judicial
Science Institute also voiced doubts that the MOJ would do a
good job running such an institution. Cuong criticized the
current MOJ training school for being already unable to meet
the needs of its students and their employers. Cuong
claimed that the school's curriculum was too focused on how
to carry out procedural functions such as issuing documents.
According to Cuong, "most of the students in classes for
judges have long worked as clerks of court. They should
already know court procedures very well." Cuong criticized
the MOJ school for failing to provide practical training on
how to run a courtroom and how to deal with actual cases.
He admitted that the MOJ school is useful for training
notaries and executors, and perhaps even attorneys, but
asserted that the SPC should take the lead in both long- and
short-term professional training for judges.


15. (U) However the GVN decides to train judges, part of
their training must be to develop the role of the judge as
an impartial "moderator" between prosecutor and defense
attorney. Officials such as the SPC's Cuong recognize this
and complain that current training neglects this aspect of a
judge's work and perpetuates the dominant role of the
prosecutor in the courtroom, where approximately 95 pct of
all cases end in conviction. (Even higher during the just-
concluded Nam Cam case.) Common wisdom in Vietnam holds
that prosecutors and judges generally determine the outcomes
of trials before they even begin. One attorney claimed that
judges have been known to ask defendants questions such as,
"When did you commit the crime?"

16. (U) CPV and GVN officials have spoken of the need for
speeding up Vietnam judicial reform process for several
years, and have prioritized upgrading the capabilities of
judges and other court officials. This will require not
only elevating the role and responsibility of judges, but
also allowing defense attorneys to operate on a more
genuinely equal footing with prosecutors (septel). It will
require years to develop genuinely knowledgeable judges and
defense attorneys, as well as to overcome a legal culture
dominated by prosecutors and police.

17. (U) Some USG assistance is already underway toward the
goal of improving the quality of judges through mechanisms
such as the USAID-funded STAR program (in support of U.S.-
Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement implementation), the U.S.-
Vietnam Trade Council BTA and legal curriculum programs, and
PAS International Visitors programs. The UNDP Legal Needs
Assessment (ref d) targets areas for foreign technical
assistance, including strengthening the legal education
system. Vietnamese judges, from Presiding Judge of the
Supreme People's Court Nguyen Van Hien on down, have
expressed strong interest in learning more about the U.S.
court system. A delegation from the Supreme People's Court,
possibly led by Justice Hien, is planning to visit the U.S.
in summer 2003 under the auspices of the STAR program.

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