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Southeast Asian Region Countries Law

Vietnamese Courts

For a useful history of the court system in Vietnam, and its Soviet, French and American influences, as well as its current structure and functions, see:

  • Pip Nicholson and Pham Lan Phuong, 'Roots and Routes: Adapting the Soviet-Inspired Vietnamese Court and Procuracy System' in Socialist Law in Socialist East Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
  • Pip Nicholson, 'Renovating Courts: the Role of Courts in Contemporary Vietnam' in Yeh Jiunn-rong and Wen-Chen Chang (eds) Asian Courts in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2014)
  • Pip Nicholson, Borrowing Court Systems: The Experience of Socialist Vietnam (Martinus Nijhoff, 2007)

The judicial system of Vietnam comprises the people's courts, military tribunals, and people's procuracies.

The Vietnamese court structure was significantly restructured and reformed in 2015, following the enactment of the Law on Organization of People's Courts (Law No  62/2014/QH13), and the Law on the Organization of People's Procuracies (Law No 63/2014/QH13). The current structure is four tiered:

  1. The highest court is the Supreme People's Court
  2. Three superior people's courts - these appellate courts are based in Hanoi, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City.
  3. 63 provincial-level people's courts - these are both trial and appellate courts
  4. district-level people's courts (toà án nhân dân cấp huyện) - these are are trial courts only.

Military tribunals established at various levels in the Vietnam People's Army, the highest being the Central Military Tribunal, which is subordinate to the Supreme People's Court. 

The people's procuracies (also called the people's office of inspection and supervision) are the prosecutorial authority in Vietnam. They also supervise and inspect judicial compliance by government agencies and officials. For every people's court, there is a people's procuracy. The military has its own military procuracies. The highest procuracy is the Supreme People's Procuracy.

Image Source: Pip Nicholson & Nguyen Hung Quang, 'Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of the Judiciary in Vietnam'
in H P Lee and 
Marilyn Pittard, Asia-Pacific judiciaries: independence, impartiality and integrity (CUP, 2018) 374

Vietnamese Jurisprudence as a Source of Law?

Jurisprudence is not recognised as a source of law, and is not officially part of the Vietnamese legal system. Therefore, in theory, court decisions have no binding precedential value. In practice, however, the Supreme People's Court produces guidelines in the form of Resolutions and conclusion reports, and a yearly collection of typical cases with comments and instructions. These have a binding effect on inferior courts. On Resolutions, see Article 21 of the Law on Promulgation of Legal Normative Documents, which states 'Judge Council of the People’s Supreme Court shall promulgate resolutions to provide guidelines for uniform application of law to adjudication by summarizing application of laws and supervising adjudication'. Resolutions are a source of law (see Article 4 of the Law on Promulgation of Legal Normative Documents). 

Resolutions and the yearly collection of typical cases are available from the website of the Supreme People's Court. They are published in Vietnamese only.

See also the Supreme People's Court Benchbook (AsianLII) which provides information, guidance and resources to assist judges and other legal professionals. The Benchbook is in English.

Decisions of the courts were not generally published until 2017 (see box below).

Finding Vietnamese Judicial Decisions

In 2017 the Supreme People's Court issued Resolution No 03/2017 / NQ-HDTP, announcing the judgments and decisions Electronic Portal on the Supreme People's Court website. This Resolution announced that from 1 July 2017 certain judgments and decisions are to be made public within 30 days. The judgments and decisions to be made public include:

  • first-instance judgments which have not been appealed or protested; 
  • appellate judgments; 
  • decisions on cassation and reopening in criminal, administrative, civil, marriage and family, business, trade and labour cases.
  • decisions on settlement of civil matters 
  • decisions declaring the bankruptcy of the enterprise or cooperative, and decisions on the settlement of the petition or protest against the decision to declare bankruptcy of the enterprise or cooperative;
  • decisions on the application of administrative remedies in the People's Courts, and decisions on settlement of complaints, petitions or protests against court decisions on the application of administrative remedies. 

Many types of decisions and judgments are not permitted to be published. More information on the publication of judgments and decisions.

The Electronic Judgments Portal is completely up to date and can be browsed or searched. The portal home page links to New Judgments and Decisions. The Judgment - Decision page can be browsed, and there is a search function that provides searching in several fields. It is easy to view and navigate this site in English (by clicking the 'Translate this page' icon in the top menu bar, or right-clicking on the page and selecting 'Translate to English'), but the decisions themselves are in Vietnamese only.

Judicial Independence

The independence of the judiciary remains a concern, despite reforms following the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution. For recent commentary on judicial independence, see for example:

Pip Nicholson & Nguyen Hung Quang, 'Independence, Impartiality and Integrity of the Judiciary in Vietnam' in the following book: