Criminal Justice

Weak legal and criminal justice capacities limits accessibility, accountability and effectiveness to the rule of law

The Lao PDR has a civil law system which is closely modelled on the Soviet/Chinese legal systems. For now, the fundamental rights declared in the Constitution do not include any rights relating to criminal justice. Presumption of innocence and the right to be represented are among the rights declared by the Criminal Procedure Law but there is no right to silence. The criminal justice system is inquisitorial and trials are sometimes conducted with reliance on confessions without witnesses being present. There is no requirement that the prosecution should prove the admissibility of a confession and the accused do not get an opportunity to show that a confession has been extracted.

The legal profession is also fragile. With less than 100 lawyers in the whole country, the required expertise about laws, legal concepts and judicial processes is very limited and legal drafting skills remain weak. A majority of the members of the National Assembly and legal sector officials do not have a sufficient legal background. There are not enough judges and serving judges with competent legislative and judicial expertise while lack of funding often prevents the implementation of general basic legal training.

In 2008, the Lao Government promulgated a new drug law which would be the basis for improving the Lao criminal justice system. Enhancing law enforcement capacities and making access to forensic services available throughout the country is a priority. Support given to an efficient and independent law enforcement system and the upgrading of scientific and forensic capacities of the national institutions will strengthen judicial integrity and independency in the trying of cases to meet the requirements of an accessible, accountable and effective criminal justice in the Lao PDR.