The amount of warmth and hospitality that we have been shown since we have arrived in Vietnam is almost awe inspiring given the short period of time that has passed since the U.S. war in Vietnam. Today we attended our first day of law study meetings in Hanoi, and we received the same warm greetings that we have received everywhere in the city. Our discussions of the day began at the Galaxy Law Firm where Professor Nguyen Khac Hai, Head of International Cooperation of Vietnam-American Law Center of the Vietnam Lawyers’ Association, gave an overview of Vietnam’s penal code and criminal procedure code. Professor Hai informed us that our U.S.-Vietnam law study exchange was the first of its kind. This is the first time in the post-war relations between the U.S. and Vietnam that the Vietnamese government has invited a U.S. law school to its country to discuss the development of law, human rights, and the legal system in Vietnam. Through our discussions, we learned about the impact of international human rights law in Vietnam’s legal development. We also had the opportunity to ask questions regarding comparative criminal laws and constitutional laws between Vietnam and the United States.
One interesting area of criminal law where we noted a stark difference is the sentencing limitations for juvenile offenders of serious crimes. Death penalty and life in prison for juveniles is treated very differently between the nations. Juveniles have long been protected against the death penalty and unusual punishment in Vietnam, while a constitutional debate has waged in the U.S. over what rights juveniles retain. Prior to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2005, states could impose the death penalty on juveniles at the ages of 17 and 18. Only recently has the U.S. made headway on juvenile justice, finally ruling that mandatory life sentences and the death penalty for juveniles are unconstitutional. Discussions with Professor Chu Hong Thanh, Deputy Secretary General of The Vietnam Lawyers’ Association, and Professor Hai helped to illustrate the need to integrate the international human rights standards into the Vietnamese criminal justice system.
Comparative analysis of Vietnam’s Constitution
The Constitution of Vietnam has been revised four times since the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam, following the end of World War II. The current version was adopted in 1992, and the last constitutional amendment was passed in 2001. There is a movement in Vietnam today to amend and streamline the Vietnam Constitution and to incorporate international human rights standards into the Constitution. Scholars and lawyers in Vietnam are consulting legal scholars and experts from around the world to find ways of improving the Vietnam Constitution. The John Marshall Law School is also contributing to this process. For instance, Professor Thanh raised questions concerning effective constitutional provisions ensuring checks and balances between main branches of government. In our discussions today, John Marshall law students questioned the absence of judicial review which would allow the courts to invalidate unconstitutional legislation. Furthermore, the students recommended inclusion of a new Supremacy Clause that would recognize international treaties and humanitarian law as part of domestic law. This is a great opportunity for The John Marshall Law School, and it is a great honor to work with the Vietnamese government to ensure full constitutional protection for the people of Vietnam.