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UNODC and Viet Nam collaborate on legal aid reforms

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 31 July 2015 - Over 200 representatives from government agencies, the Vietnamese Bar Association, the National Legal Aid Agency, and other civil organizations attended a two-day long conference on revising the Vietnamese Law on Legal Aid from 16-17 June in Hanoi.

Organized by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in collaboration with the UNODC Country Office in Viet Nam and the Embassy of Ireland, the main objective of the Conference was to initiate a national discussion on necessary reforms in the national legal aid system. Participants discussed issues pertaining to the eligibility for legal aid, quality of legal aid services, needs of vulnerable groups, and the independence of the legal aid system and individual providers.

The Conference was attended by the senior management of MOJ, representatives of the National Assembly, Supreme People's Procuracy, Supreme People's Court, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Bar Federation, Law Association of Viet Nam and experts from UNODC, UNICEF, UNDP and UNAIDS.

Ms. Miri Sharon, a crime prevention officer from UNODC headquarters in Vienna described the key elements of a comprehensive legal aid system under international standards and shared examples from other countries, as well as the tools that proved relevant to their legal aid systems.

She highlighted that according to the Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, UN Member States have a responsibility to ensure that a comprehensive legal aid system is in place that is accessible, effective, sustainable, and credible. She also noted that the review of the Law on Legal Aid by the Ministry of Justice provides a great opportunity to apply the UN Principles and ensure quality and equal legal aid services to the poor in Viet Nam, and that UNODC stands ready to support the review process.

Presentations by UN officials included the sharing of knowledge and experience on different funding methods available for creating a sustainable legal aid program in Viet Nam. They also covered topics such as the utility an effective legal aid system has for strengthening the rule of law in Viet Nam, as well as the models and guidelines available for Viet Nam to develop a legal aid system that is humane and compliant with international mandates.

Viet Nam is looking to revise its current Law on Legal Aid in order to better address problems within its current legal aid system. The Ministry of Justice published their Report on Reviewing 8 Years of Implementing the Law on Legal Aid ahead of the conference, wherein the Ministry noted the successes of the current legal aid system since the law's implementation as well as the challenges that current legal aid system are facing, noting the irregular funding and quality control problems, as well as unclear regulations from other agencies.

UNODC is supporting the Ministry of Justice and Vietnamese Government in their pursuit of revising the Law on Legal Aid. UNODC has been providing the Vietnamese Government with international resources and experts on both the use of the UN Model Law on Legal Aid and the legal aid systems of other countries. This conference served as an important step for the UNODC and MOJ to continue working together in support of Government's efforts to develop a legal aid system in line with international standards and norms that protects rights of citizens, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged ones.