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Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide: Legislation and Caselaw

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Lao PDR Constitution

Text of the Constitution of Lao PDR

There have been three versions of the Constitution since the creation of the state of the Lao PDR in 1975:

The 1991 Constitution and 2003 Amended Constitution are available in English on AsianLII (open access). 

An official translation of the 2003 Constitution is available on the Lao Laws website (open access).

The 2015 Constitution (Amended) was published in the Official Gazette (open access) on 4 February 2016. It is currently available in the Lao language only. The 2015 Constitution:

  • has 14 chapters and 119 articles, three chapters and 21 articles more than the 2003 version. 
  • implies greater commitment to the rule of law by, for example:
    • allowing the establishment of provincial assemblies (PAs) for the first time, which are set to function as local parliaments.
    • stipulating, for the first time, that the president can hold office for not more than two consecutive terms.

Pre-1975 there was one other Constitution 

The first Constitution was adopted when Lao PDR was still a member of the French Union. The Constitution of 1947 provided for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, which was the form of government of the country from after the withdrawal of the French from Indochina in 1954 until the abdication of King Savang Vatthana and the proclamation of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in December 1975. The 1947 Constitution is available on HEIN Online (UniMelb staff & student access).

Commentary on the Constitution

Oxford Constitutions of the World (UniMelb staff & student access)  - contains English versions of the 1991 and 2003 Lao PDR Constitution, accompanied by commentaries, amendment laws, full text scholarly articles on the constitution and its history, and a bibliography of books and articles.

World Constitutions Illustrated on HeinOnline (UniMelb staff & student access) contains the current Constitution in the world in the Lao language and in English, as well as original source documents, scholarly articles and commentary. This source is a good place to find historic, rather than up to date, scholarship.

Access to Justice

Full text 2013 report on Access to Justice in Laos from the Asia Foundation

Abstract: Since the national constitution was adopted in Laos in 1991, a number of laws and regulations have been enacted. Enforcement and citizen awareness, however, remains low, due in part to the lack of a history of rule of law in the country.

Legislation

Legislative Process

The Law on Making Legislation (2012 - English translation) establishes the legal system for developing and bringing legislation into legal force.

Laws are enacted by the National Assembly after presentation by the government, and are promulgated by and appended to presidential decrees.

Flow Chart of the Legislative Process - from the National Assembly of the Lao PDR.

Information on legislation and the legislative process is available in English on the Lao PDR Official Gazette website.

The Official Gazette

In accordance with the Law on Making Legislation, the Lao PDR Official Gazette (open access) was launched online in October 2013. All legislation - in force and proposed (draft legislation), including the Constitution, laws, ordinances, resolutions, decrees, edicts, decisions and instructions - is available in the Lao language on this website. It is the most up-to-date and reliable source of Lao laws. Existing legislation not posted on the Gazette website by January 2015 is no longer valid (Law on Making Legislation art. 80 and 83). The website of the Official Gazette, although containing legislation in the Lao language only (with a very few exceptions), lists all legislation in English. It can be searched or browsed by date of issue, e-gazette publication date, responsible agency or type of legislation.

Finding Laws in English 

Research tip: the translated laws below may not be up to date. Laws are often amended, replaced or repealed. To check that the law you are using is still valid, check the Official Gazette website - if the law is not listed there, it is not valid. Alternatively, it may still exist in an amended form - this will be listed in the Gazette.

Laws of the Lao People's Democratic Republic on AsianLII (open access) contains an up to date but incomplete collection of major laws arranged alphabetically by title.

Hint - most laws are listed under 'L' - for 'Law on ....'!

Lao Laws (open access) - official translation by the Singapore Government and the UN Development Programme – includes 32 major laws and explanatory notes on translation. 

The International Law Project Lao PDR Lao Law in English (open access) - compiled by the Lao Government and the UN Development Programme. Includes includes 40 laws, arranged by topic.

The Foreign Law Guide (UniMelb staff & student access) lists legislation alphabetically by subject and links to English translations of the laws on open access websites where possible.

The University of Sydney Asian and Pacific Law Research Guide: Laos - contains useful links to Lao PDR laws by topic.

Customary Law in Lao PDR

Customary Law and Practice in Lao PDR

Courts and Cases

Lao PDR is a civil law country and, as such, jurisprudence is not recognised as a source of law and is not part of the legal system. Court judgments are not publicly published. Court websites can only be accessed by password.

The hierarchy of the Lao PDR court system is:

  • The People's Supreme Court
  • People's Court of Appeal 
  • Regional Courts
    • The People's City Courts and People's Provincial Courts adjudicate at first instance those cases which are not within the jurisdiction of the district and municipal courts, and adjudicate on appeal the decisions at first instance of the district and municipal courts.
  • First Instance Courts
    • The role of the People's District Courts and People's Municipal Courts is to educate the people about the laws and to mediate parties’ disputes. They also adjudicate minor criminal cases and small claims for civil cases.There are fifteen municipal courts.
  • Military Courts
    • The High Military Court and Regional Military Court adjudicate criminal cases involving offences that pertain to military matters or occur within the compounds of an army base.

The Judiciary

The 2003 Amended Constitution made substantial changes to the judiciary, and gave new powers to the Supreme Court, which had previously been the province of the government. For example: 

  • A new tier of courts, the Appellate Courts, was established.
  • Judges are now appointed, transferred and dismissed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on the recommendation of the President of the Supreme Court. This was formerly a government responsibility.
  • The administration of local courts, formerly the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, now resides with the Supreme Court.
  • Both the Supreme Court and Supreme People’s Prosecutor report to the National Assembly. 
    Source: Judicial Training in ASEAN: A Comparative Overview of Systems and Programs (Human Rights Resource Centre, 2014) 41