Defense lawyers in Vietnam are bristling at a new law passed by the Vietnamese National Assembly this week that would force lawyers to inform on their clients to authorities.
On June 20, the rubber-stamp assembly approved Article 19, section 3 of the penal code, which states that lawyers will be held "criminally accountable" for "not reporting on national security crimes or other especially serious crimes which the person he/she is defending is preparing to carry out, is carrying out, or has carried out and the defender clearly knows about it while carrying out his/her defense duty."
The new code, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2018, has raised sharp concerns among lawyers in Vietnam, who say they already have a hard time defending clients in the one-party communist state that is mounting a crackdown against bloggers, environmental activists and government critics and which uses a broad definition of state security to stifle dissent..
"Lawyers in Vietnam have long been subject to many difficulties and obstacles due to the lack of goodwill of the prosecuting organs. Yet now they have added another responsibility for us which is reporting on our own clients," Lawyer Ngo Ngoc Trai told RFA's Vietnamese service.
"I think this is very disadvantageous and a step backward for the Vietnamese judiciary, which already has many inadequacies. I think that this is a very regrettable and blameworthy, by which I mean blame goes to the National Assembly for having passed such a regulation," he told RFA.
Lawyer Vo An Don told RFA the new regulation "is completely contrary to the ethics code of lawyers, because lawyers are obliged to protect their clients, while at the same time, clients must really trust the lawyers before they tell them everything."
"The lawyers’ duty is to defend, or mitigate their offenses but this article makes them go against the code and betray the clients. This will gradually destroy lawyer career in Vietnam," he added.
A third lawyer, Pham Le Vuong Cac, said Article 19 would be difficult to enforce because of the closed nature of police investigations.
"I think that in reality it would be very difficult for the investigators, since the contacts of the lawyers and the defendants are under the control of prison officials, so when the defendants provide information to the lawyer, the investigating authorities will also be aware of that information," he told RFA.
"They cannot truthfully accuse lawyers of not reporting on their clients," Cac added.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Paul Eckert.