History of its Development
From 1945 to 1959 – Independence and the First Constitution
Following the victory of the 1945 August Revolution against the Japanese Empire, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was born and declared its independence from French Colonial rule. The new Government immediately started building up and consolidating the State during which the judiciary was formulated with the establishment of Military Courts, Special Courts and Ordinary Courts. The Ordinary Courts were created under the Decree No. 13 dated 24 January1946 of the Chairman of the Government on Courts Organisation and Judges, which provided adequately for dispute settlements and sanctions of minor violations, as well as the organization of the Ordinary Courts and standards, duties and power of judges. Thus, such Courts were established before the enaction of the First Constitution of Vietnam.
On 9 November 1946, the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam adopted the First Constitution of the State of Vietnam with a separate chapter, Chapter VI, on “the Judiciary”; accordingly, the Judiciary of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam consists of the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, Intermediate Courts and Courts of First Instance (Article 63). However, French Colonial Military returned to invade Vietnam again, and the war which broke out led to nationwide resistance; consequently, the judicial system could not be established according to the First Constitution yet. At the same time, the Martial and Military Courts were set up to try promptly crimes in areas where there was fighting. The Martial Courts could be established even in the battlefields. During the war against the French Colonial Military, the court system was organized flexibly, depending on war conditions, under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice.
In 1954, after the French were defeated, the Government of Vietnam regained and controlled half of the country – the North of Vietnam. In April 1958, the National Assembly decided to establish the Supreme People’s Court and the Central People’s Public Prosecution Institute in an effort to split the Court system and Public Prosecution Institute from the Ministry of Justice, which initiated the restructuring of the Court system.
From 1959 to 1980 – Building up the Court Structure
On 31 December 1959, the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam adopted a new Constitution in replacement of the 1946 Constitution. According to Chapter VIII of the new Constitution, judicial bodies of Vietnam comprise the “People’s Court and People’s Procuracy.”
Under the 1959 Constitution, the Court system included the Supreme People’s Court, Local People’s Courts, and Military Courts. Based on the 1959 Constitution, the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam passed the Law on the Courts Organisation on 14 July1960. According to Article 2 of the law, the Court system was designed to include:
– The Supreme People’s Court;
– The People’s Courts of provinces and/or autonomous areas (Local People’s Court);
– Military Courts;
– Special Courts (being set up under special circumstances).
The jurisdiction of each Court level were also clarified by such law. The Permanent Committee of National Assembly enacted an Ordinance on the structure of the Supreme People’s Court and Local People’s Courts with detailed provisions on titles and divisions of these Courts and on their functions, duties and powers. Although the Ordinance did not provide on the supporting bodies of the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Court also included an Administration Department, Personnel and Organization Department, General Affairs Department, Legal Research Department.. Remarkably, the 1960 Law on Court Organization Ordinance provided that the Chief Justice was to be selected and removed by the National Assembly with the term of five years, whilst the Deputy Chief Justices, Justices and other titles were to be designated and removed by the Permanent Committee of the National Assembly according to the suggestions of Chairman of the Committee.
From 1980 to 1992 – Consolidation of the Judicial System
In comparison with the 1959 Constitution, the People’s Court system provided by the 1980 Constitution basically had no changes. However, the new Constitution contained more detailed provisions on judiciary activities and set up some important principles.
The Court system still consisted of 3 levels with the Supreme People’s Court at the top and Provincial People’s Courts and District People’s Courts in the lower levels under the 1981 Law on People’s Courts Organization. Military Courts were also regarded as a part of the Court system but the structure of Military Courts was provided by an Ordinance of the State Council. In special or necessary circumstances, the National Assembly and/or the State Council could decide to establish Special Courts.
In 1981, the Ministry of Justice was re-established, and subsequently the power to manage the organization of local Courts was vested in the Ministry. The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice are responsible to co-manage the organization of the Military Courts. In general, the Supreme People’s Court was to be responsible for managing and guiding the local Courts in adjudication matters.
From 1992 to 2015 – Consolidation of the Judicial System
According to the 1992 Constitution and the 1993 Law on People’s Court Organization, the judicial structure had no change. However, there were some new provisions on operation of the Courts that are remarkable, as follows:
– The Ordinance on People’s Judges and Jurors enacted on 14 May 1993, it is the first legal document that provides in detail the standards, requirements of judges and jurors in each level of Court system, and their specific duties and power. According to the Ordinance, judges were appointed instead of being selected.
– Established an Economic Division in the Supreme People’s Court and each Provincial People’s Courts, which is responsible to deal with economic disputes and bankruptcy claims in order to satisfy requirements of the market economy.
– Salaries and other conditions for judges and Courts staff were also enhanced as a social recognition of the importance of judicial activities.
In 2002, the new Law on People’s Court Organization was enacted. This law did not modify the main structure of the judicial system but created some changes such as recognizing the principle of two instances; removing the Committee of Justices of the Supreme People’s Court, consequently, the Justices Council was vested with more power and duties. The Law also granted the Chief Justice more authority and responsibility, and added many other changes relevant to the internal organization of Provincial Courts and District Courts.
From June 2015 to-date: Judicial Reform
In 2013, the Constitution of Vietnam was amended with many significant changes concerning the judiciary as a result of the judicial reform process initiated from 2005. Subsequently, on 24 November 2014, the National Assembly adopted the new Law on People’s Court Organization, which concretizes relevant provisions of the Constitution.
The new law contained essential amendments on a large scale including the functions, duties and power of the People’s Courts, organization and operation principles of the People Courts; Justices’ and Judges’ election and appointment, election of Jurors, detailed duty of Cassation Reviewers and Clerks and other provisions that ensure the operation of the Courts.
The Law on the People’s Court Organization confirmed the basic principles recognized by the 2013 Constitution, in which, there were significant principles such as guaranteeing adversarial trials, presumption of innocence; in addition, it provided a characteristic principle for Courts’ organization and operation as “The People’s Courts to be organized independently in accordance with their jurisdictions” (Article 5).
– The judiciary structure was changed by the new law, which now consisted of 4 levels: The Supreme People’s Court, People’s High Courts, Provincial People’s Courts, and the District People’s Court; the Military Courts were still maintained as a part of the judicial system (Article 3).
– The new law provided for the standards and requirements for judges as well as a process for the appointment of judges, which contained many innovations such as comparative exams to select or promote judges, judges’ term of offices, etc. Other titles such as jurors and cassation reviewers and Court clerks were also provided in detail under the new law.