Reform of Criminal Investigations in Vietnam

On August 25th 2014, new Vietnamese government regulations on police investigations came into effect.

- That government officials are now speaking openly on issues such as wrongful convictions is a step in the right direction, says Gisle Kvanvig, Director of the Vietnam Programme at the NCHR.

- That government officials are now speaking openly on issues such as wrongful convictions is a step in the right direction, says Gisle Kvanvig, Director of the Vietnam Programme. Photo: CBA

Although the new Circular 28 entitled "Regulating the Conduct of Criminal Investigations by the People's Public Security" is not a deep reform that will stop widespread police abuse in Vietnam, it makes a number of positive changes to existing regulations.

Positive changes

Firstly, according to Human Rights Watch, it sets out that the first principle for conducting a police investigation is to “comply with the Constitution and laws; respect the interests of the State, human rights, and the rights and legitimate interests of offices, organizations and individuals” (article 4).

Thus, the Circular provides clarification of the existing regulation, which makes no mention of “human rights” or the need to secure the rights and interests of individuals.

Secondly, Circular 28 prohibits police investigators “from obtaining coerced statements or coercively planting statements, or using corporal punishment in any form” (article 31).

Thirdly, it also forbids investigators from “ask [ing]  or harass [ing] for any favor or benefit in any form from the accused person, the detainee or their loved ones, or any individual, office or organizations related to the case” (article 31).

President urges end to wrongful verdicts

In addition to the new Circular 28, President Trương Tấn Sang has urged the country’s criminal investigators to put an end to wrongful verdicts and brutality.

- The President's statements show that the Vietnam Programme's efforts to train police officers in Vietnam has support at the highest level in the political system, says Kvanvig.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Public Security in Vietnam, the Norwegian Police University College and Oslo Police District, the Vietnam Programme has conducted training on the presumption of innocence in the investigation and interrogation process.

- We appreciate that the challenges in the Vietnamese justice system is now debated openly. The ability to self-reflection is essential in all reform efforts, says Kvanvig.

Concern over the role of defence lawyers

Although Circular 28 improves on past rules, it also contains a number of problematic regulations, such as restricting, rather than expanding, the role of defence lawyers.

- The role of defence lawyers during the criminal justice process is essential to ensure adherence with domestic criminal procedures and international human rights law.

- In close connection with our partners, the Vietnam Programme endeavours to work towards improvement of the working relationship between Vietnamese defence lawyers and the police, says Kvanvig.

By Solveig Igesund
Published Aug. 29, 2014 10:31 AM