Speech by UN Resident Coordinator John Hendra at the annual Legal Partnership Forum 

Date:  Monday 13 September, 2010
Event:  Legal Partnership Forum, under the project "Strengthening Access to Justice  and Protection of Rights in Viet Nam"
Speaker: United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, Mr. John Hendra

Your Excellencies,
Mr. Nguyen Van Hien, Standing Vice-Chairman of the Judicial  Reform Steering Committee;
Mr. Hoang The Lien, Standing Vice-Minister of Justice;
Dr. Nguyen Van Quyen, Head of the Judicial Reform Secretariat;
Honorable representatives of the National Assembly, Government agencies, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuracy;
Members of the diplomatic corps and donor community;
Ladies and gentlemen;

I am delighted to be here today for this year’s Legal Partnership Forum. This is the seventh Forum of its kind and the first to be held since UNDP and the Government began implementing a new project on strengthening access to justice and protection of rights.

The Forum comes at a crucial point in time. As Viet Nam achieves middle-income status, strengthening of the legal and judicial sector has a vital role to play in steering the country along a path of sustained, equitable growth and human development. Further implementation of legal and judicial reform and the decisions adopted at the forthcoming XI Party Congress will be critical for the legal and judicial sector to fully perform this role.

In the 20 years since committing itself to the rule of law, Viet Nam has made impressive achievements in building up a comprehensive legal framework and reforming the justice sector institutions.

The urgent challenge now is to ensure that laws really work in practice, especially for the poor and other disadvantaged groups who need the laws’ protection most of all.  

I know that Viet Nam fully recognises the importance of tackling these legal reform challenges. In its report for the Universal Periodic Review on human rights last year, the Government called the inconsistencies and overlaps within the Vietnamese legal system the “main obstacle to the development of the society and the exercise of human rights”. And recently Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, when meeting with the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, confirmed Viet Nam’s resolve to constantly improve the exercising of human rights through upgrading the legal system.

These key priorities are also reflected in today’s Forum and in the two sessions which we will have.

Five years since the promulgation of the Legal Systems Development Strategy and the Judicial Reform Strategy, and with preparations underway for the next Party Congress, now is the time to reflect on the priorities for the legal and judicial systems in the next decade. This is the objective of our first session this morning. I am delighted that as part of its policy work, the UN in Viet Nam has supported independent reviews of the future needs for legal reform, as well as comparative research for the Judicial Reform Secretariat on how five European and Asian countries have shaped and reformed their own justice systems to strengthen the rule of law. We will hear the recommendations from both pieces of research in a moment.

The second session today covers issues around legal empowerment of the poor and access to justice. This is the first Legal Partnership Forum to focus on these issues and underlines the Government’s commitment to addressing them. The UN is also strongly committed to these issues. Last December, the UN General Assembly endorsed the importance of legal empowerment of the poor, affirming that access to justice and the realisation of rights are essential determinants of poverty reduction. In that light, the UN Secretary-General has called legal empowerment a critical development objective. As the UN in Viet Nam, we highly appreciate the increasing importance that the Government attaches to these issues, and the cooperation that Viet Nam is developing with the UN in this key area.

The research which will be presented later shows some encouraging progress in people’s awareness and trust of the legal system over the last seven years. However, it also identifies some key challenges, such as a continuing low awareness of and access to legal aid services. And research on access to counsel in criminal cases shows that only some ten per cent of criminal defendants have lawyers to represent them in court, and that these lawyers are not yet fully able to defend their clients in practice, especially during criminal investigations.  

As Viet Nam increasingly focuses on ensuring that its laws are enforced and that its institutions are working for the poor and disadvantaged in practice, more policy research and analysis of this kind will be essential. Such research will help to further advance reforms and identify the key decisions needed to improve the functioning of the legal system.

The UN in Viet Nam is committed to continue working with national authorities to conduct policy research that meets national demands and needs. This helps ensure that Viet Nam has a solid evidence base so that reforms can be implemented effectively. In partnership with our national partners, the UN is also fully committed to continue to facilitate policy dialogues and exchange of experience, including through events such as the Legal Partnership Forum.

I wish you all good health and happiness, and a very successful Forum.

Thank you.