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Strengthening Skills of Judges and Lawyers in Adversarial Criminal Trials

With support from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Agency (INL), ABA ROLI is implementing a Criminal Trial Advocacy program with the aim of providing Vietnamese judges, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, and law students an opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills they need to implement the adversarial elements included in Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), which went into effect in January 2018. While Vietnam has generally followed an inquisitorial system, the 2015 CPC promotes adversarial principles of criminal justice and rights. With this development, criminal defendants and their counsels are granted more rights in criminal proceedings. Through this program, ABA ROLI develops training manuals and provides training for justice system actors including judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judicial officials and law students.

In 2017, ABA ROLI conducted a four-week study exchange in the U.S. under its International Justice Sector Education and Training Fellowship (IJET) Program for Vietnamese representatives from the Vietnam Bar Federation (VBF), the Supreme People’s Court, and the Office of the Central Steering Committee for Judicial Reform. The Vietnamese IJET fellows developed a collective change plan to enhance the professional skills of judges, prosecutors, and lawyers in using an adversarial approach in litigation. The plan informed the design of ABA ROLI’s current Trial Advocacy Program in Vietnam.

Since the program commenced in April 2019, ABA ROLI has conducted trial advocacy skills training courses for at least 140 judges, over 200 prosecutors, 191 criminal defense lawyers from 32 provinces, and 249 law students from several law schools including the Vietnam Court Academy, Hanoi Procuratorate University, and Hanoi Law School, among others. For each TAS training course organized, ABA ROLI administered a pre- and post-test to assess the knowledge of participants. On average, at least 75% of participants from these training courses have reported knowledge increase.

In 2022, ABA ROLI supported the SPC to conduct a Comparative Study on Lay Participation in Criminal Trials, which compared the jury trial model of Vietnam to that of other countries such as the United States and Japan. ABA ROLI and the SPC also organized two workshops on case precedent in Hanoi and Da Nang City, with a combined attendance of 118 participants. Following the conclusion of these consultation workshops, four cases, three of which involved cross-border trafficking, were submitted to the SPC Justice Council for consideration and adoption as case precedents. In August 2023, the SPC’s Justice Council, led by the Chief Justice, held a meeting to review the proposed draft cases from the consultation workshops in 2022. At the close of the meeting, the Justice Council passed two cases, which are Precedent No.65/AL/2023/AL on the criminalization of the offense of trafficking in persons (TIP) and Precedent No.66/2023/AL on defining the crime of TIP. On October 1, 2023, a Decision by the SPC Justice Council was issued on these two cases, announcing their adopted as case precedent nationwide for the local people’s courts.

In April 2023, ABA ROLI, at the request of the Supreme People’s Procuracy of Vietnam, has supported the conduct of a study on Plea Bargaining. The study presents a complete analysis of the Plea bargaining institution, examining its origin and development, nature, purpose, role, legal frames, procedures, benefits, and disadvantages through various jurisdictions such as the United States, Japan, Germany, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Great Britain, Nepal, Kenya, Argentina, Taiwan, China, etc… and most importantly, recommendations to consider adapting the whole or some aspects of plea bargaining into Vietnam's criminal system. The study was led by three SPP consultants and was supported by a pro-bono legal expert, Mr. John Vaudreuil, who is a retired Chief District Prosecutor in the state of Wisconsin, United States.

Following the completion of the study on Plea Bargaining, ABA ROLI and the SPP organized a half-day workshop to launch the report in Hanoi on May 26, 2023. Thirty-seven participants attended the workshop (19 male and 18 female) from the SPP, SPC, High People’s Procuracy in Hanoi, People’s Procuracy from provincial and district levels (Phu Tho, Hai Duong, Ha Nam, Vinh Phuc, Bac Ninh) and other relevant agencies and organizations such as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Vietnam Social Science Academy (VSSA), Judicial Academy, Vietnam Court Academy, Hanoi Procuratorate University.