Vietnam moves towards greater rights for crime suspects

Thanh Nien News

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 Nguyen Thanh Chan (C) has made headlines in Vietnam since April 2014 when he had his name cleared after serving 10 years as part of a life sentence for murder. Photo credit: Lao Dong Nguyen Thanh Chan (C) has made headlines in Vietnam since April 2014 when he had his name cleared after serving 10 years as part of a life sentence for murder. Photo credit: Lao Dong

Vietnam’s top prosecutor’s office has made draft amendments to criminal justice procedures that give crime suspects more rights during interrogation, including the one to remain silent.
The People’s Supreme Procuracy’s draft came at a time when several cases of wrongful conviction have been drawing a great deal of public attention and often blamed on investigative agencies.
Le Huu The, deputy chief of the Procuracy, said at a meeting with the National Assembly’s judiciary committee Monday that their recommendation of the right to silence means that suspects have a right to not make any statement or any confession that can be used against them during the trial, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.
He said further that a basic premise of the code is “presumption of innocence,” meaning law enforcement agencies are supposed to handle the case in a way that benefits the suspect.
However, Deputy Minister of Public Security Le Quy Vuong said the amendments would encourage criminals to give false statements or use the right to silence to hinder authorities’ efforts to solve crimes.
Besides, though the law takes a suspect’s confession into consideration to reduce their punishment, it does not consider increasing it when the suspect refuses to give a statement without their attorney’s presence, he said.
Thus, the Vietnamese system already respects suspects’ rights not to be forced to present evidence against themselves, he pointed out.
On record
The prosecutor’s office’s recommendation of requiring every interrogation to be recorded was also debated by members of the committee, who claimed it is “impossible”.
Le Thi Nga, vice chairwoman of the committee, said this provision should apply only in "some special cases" -- like when a suspect insists on his/her innocence or claims to be tortured or coerced into confessing.
To prevent torture and coercion, and increase the transparency of criminal procedures like the draft’s authors hope to achieve with the amendments, she said it should be stipulated that every interrogation must be documented in writing and all documents have to be included in case files.
Vuong also said it would be expensive to equip every investigative agency with recorders since the country has numerous agencies, with 700-800 operating just at the district level.
In defense of existing provisions, Nguyen Duc Chung, director of the Hanoi police department, said suspects are always read their statements before they are asked to sign.
Suspects’ attorneys are always present during interrogations which are closely supervised by prosecutors, he said.
“It can be said that existing laws already guarantee objectivity and earnestness.”
But he also said that during his study of some cases of wrongful conviction, he found a “lack of responsibility” on the part of investigators and prosecutors, and even intervention by heads of investigative agencies.
Pre-custody check-up
Vuong expressed support for the recommendation to give suspects the right to have a medical check-up done before being detained, saying it is necessary given that investigative agencies have recently been criticized for deaths in custody.
“Whenever it comes to deaths in custody, some people will blame law enforcement agencies for torturing and coercing suspects into confessing or treating them improperly,” he said.
In fact, many suspects are already sick when detained and could die merely from shock, he claimed.
A report furnished by the Ministry of Public Security at a meeting with the standing committee last week showed that 226 detainees died in the country between October 2011 and September 2014.
The majority of the deaths were caused by suicide or natural causes, it said.
Though the report did not have any comparable data, some lawmakers said the number of deaths in custody has increased sharply in recent years, raising questions about the actual causes of deaths.
The amendments to the Criminal Procedure are slated to be submitted to the National Assembly at a mid-year session.

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