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The Supreme People's Court of Vietnam: Benchbook Online

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IDLO is honoured to have assisted in the development of the Vietnam Benchbook project under the leadership of Chief Justice Nguyen Van Hien and Deputy Chief Justice Dang Quang Phuong. In 2001, Dr Phuong expressed interest in the development of a “Benchbook for the Vietnamese Judiciary” along the lines of the projects already completed by IDLO (then called the International Development Law Institute (IDLI)) in Mongolia, Lao P.D.R. and the Philippines.

In 2004, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) supported the Vietnam Benchbook project and IDLO was selected to assist the Vietnamese judiciary in its development. The Hon. Justice Michael Moore of the Federal Court of Australia has played an important role as one of two international consultants on this project in guiding the development of the Benchbook in a manner designed to maximise its use by fellow judges in Vietnam. Justice Moore has a keen interest in developing ties between the Australian judiciary and the judiciaries in the region and he worked on this project on a voluntary basis during periods of leave. His involvement had the support of Chief Justice Black of the Federal Court of Australia which, as a Court, is engaged in numerous judicial development programs in the Asia-Pacific region.

Over the last two years, IDLO has been fortunate to work with a committed group of Vietnamese judges and lawyers to draft the Vietnam Judge’s Benchbook. The methodology used is one that was developed by IDLO, and in particular, its former Deputy Director-General Gilles Blanchi, over the last decade in the Organisation’s work with judiciaries in Lao PDR, Mongolia, and the Philippines.

Each of the chapters in this Benchbook has been written by Vietnamese judges with significant experience in their field: Judge Chu Xuan Minh, Judge Nguyen Van Dzung, Judge Tran Thi Hanh, Judge Nguyen Son, Judge Dang Xuan Dao, Judge Hoang Thi Bac and Judge Duong Quoc Thanh. Dr Dang Quang Phuong and Mr Ngo Cuong, from the Institute for Judicial Science of the SPC, have served a critical task in the editing of these chapters. As international consultants, Justice Moore and I worked with the Benchbook authors to develop a uniform format for the Benchbook designed to provide valuable information to the judges of Vietnam in the handling of cases that come before their courts. We have endeavoured to present this in a practical task-based format so that it is easy for judges to refer to.

The rationale and outline of the Benchbook as well as the penultimate draft have each been the subject of two sets of workshops in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in October 2004 and October 2005.  These workshops were extremely valuable in terms of providing the authors and editors of the Benchbook with information and views to incorporate in the final version of the Benchbook from a wide range of court users such as lawyers, Bar Associations, judicial training institutes, the prosecution as well as the judges of Vietnam.

During June 2006, two Training of Trainers workshops will take place in HCMC and Hanoi to build the capacity of a pool of 70-80 trainers who will in turn provide training to approximately 700 judges in Vietnam on how to use the Judicial Benchbook.

In addition to the loose-leaf Benchbook, there are also two electronic formats for the Benchbook accessible via the Internet [] and on CDROM. These electronic versions of the Benchbook allow the Supreme People’s Court to quickly and inexpensively update the Benchbook on-line. Over the last year, judges in all provincial courts, as well as the district and city courts of Hanoi and HCMC, are now able to access the Internet through computers installed in their courts as a result of other donor programmes (this is intended to be extended to district court level over the coming years). The SPC can now advise judges in these courts by email of any changes to the Benchbook and email them the new parts to be inserted in the loose-leaf version of the Benchbook.

Many people have been involved in the creation of this Benchbook and I would like to thank the staff of the Institute for Judicial Science of the SPC, and in particular Ms Bui Thi Nhan and Ms Nguyen Thi Mai. Mr Phan Nguyen Toan, of LEADCO Vietnam Legal Counsellors has been a most able Project Coordinator, assisted by Ms Pham Thuy Ngoc and Ms Tran Thu Phuong. Mr Lam Chi Dung, as Coordinator for the Electronic Benchbook, and   Mr Kien Cuong, as Editor for the Electronic Benchbook, have each played an instrumental role in transforming a hard-copy document into a web-based Benchbook that is now widely accessible in Vietnam and internationally.

Lastly, Mr Graham Alliband, and the staff of the CEG Facility and Melbourne University Private (now MDI), provided constant support for this project over the last two years.

In October 2004, Dr Phuong opened a stakeholder workshop by saying that “The Benchbook cannot be 1000 pages but needs to be structured so as to be user-friendly and address the priority issues facing the judges of Vietnam at a time when the country is undergoing a period of administrative reform, judicial reform and is in transition toward a market economy.” All these changes pose particular challenges for the court system and I hope that the Benchbook will play some part in assisting the judges of Vietnam in their future work and that this will be the first of many editions.

                                                                              Cate Sumner
                                                             IDLO Asia Pacific Training Centre
                                                                                  April 2006