Personal and financial influences have come to interfere with the independent role proscribed to judges by Vietnam’s Constitution, experts said at a Hanoi conference on fair and transparent justice Friday.
By design, Vietnamese judges are bound to their own conviction and the laws. In reality, however, they must contend with myriad burdens, officials said at a conference held by the Institute of Public Policy and Laws and the local non-profit organization Towards Transparency.
Professor Le Hong Hanh, former head of the Institute of Legal Science at the Ministry of Justice, told guests including members of the supreme court, top prosecution unit and the justice ministry that judges “are afraid of everything.”
Hanh said she is participating in research on judges’ independence and the findings so far has concerned her.
“They are not independent at all,” he said.
“Judges are scared of everyone from low-level treasury employees to police.
“They’re afraid of performance assessments from upper authorities.
“They’re afraid that the local government won't give them enough land for offices and housing.”
Hanh said that because judges fear police and prosecutors, they sometimes won't dare to declare a suspect innocent.
“They don't have that option. They have to ask police and prosecutors to launch flawed investigations anew, pulling and pushing the cases,” he said, without providing specific examples.
Professor Dao Tri Uc, board chairman of the public policy and law institute, also said that annual performance assessments remain a burden on judges because local officials have a say in how they're evaluated.
If the assessment is bad, judges can lose their jobs, Uc said.
Lawyer Nguyen Quang Hung from Towards Transparency said their research into court administration found that the appointment of judges has been far from transparent, causing judges to remain beholden to the individuals who appointed them or helped them secure their position.
Also, courts are funded like government administrative agencies, Hung said.
Many courts aren't allocated enough money for their activities and must find ways to receive more from the local government, he said.
Officials at the conference said judges should receive appointments based on their merits, so they won’t have to feel beholden to a given politician or senior judge.
They also called for a fair and proper payment system for judges.