HA NOI (VNS)— The country's free legal assistance system faced a critical shortage of lawyers, warned Nguyen Thi Minh, director of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)'s Department for Legal Aid, at a national conference in the capital.
Aid is currently provided by state-owned centres in 63 provinces, as well as various firms and social and non-government organisations. But the gaps in the system are profound.
According to Minh, 158 communes in 28 poor districts with a poverty rate of 35-40 per cent do not receive state funding for legal assistance.
Viet Nam has only about 8,000 lawyers for a population of 90 million. The number of legal aid beneficiaries includes an estimated 8.6 million poor people, 6.7 million disabled people and 8 million more under preferential policy, Minh said.
The Government set up a legal aid system in 1997 in order to ensure that disadvantaged people, especially female victims of domestic violence and ethnic minorities, had access to legal assistance.
The Law on Legal Aid, passed in 2006, was intended to strengthen the system.
Deputy Minister of Justice Hoang The Lien said Viet Nam had always considered free legal aid an important component of its judicial and administrative systems.
However, Lien also acknowledged that demand for free legal aid was rising as the country developed and the population moved towards middle-income status.
Vo Vu Liem from the Legal Aid Centre in southern Ben Tre Province said free legal aid was critical to support vulnerable citizens in the province – mostly women living and farming in rural areas with a low literacy level.
The centre has been working closely with the women's union and the province's Department of Justice to provide information on legal aid and establish legal aid clubs for women.
Reinforcing Liem's point, Ambassador to the European Union delegation in Viet Nam Franz Jessen said a strong free legal aid system was fundamental for safeguarding fairness in judicial proceedings.
Viet Nam has more than 500 international NGOs and more than 800 domestic organisations with vulnerable clients, such as people living with HIV or disabilities and migrant workers, who would greatly benefit from free legal aid but find it difficult to get services from State legal aid centres.
Hoang Nguyen Binh from the Institute on Policy, Law and Development, suggested that coordination between government-funded law consultation centres providing legal aid and those established by private law firms be improved.
The two-day conference is part of the Justice Partnership Programme funded by the European Union, Denmark, Sweden and the Justice Ministry. — VNS