Opinion divided as new bill asks Vietnamese lawyers to break client privilege in serious cases

By Vo Hai   May 29, 2017 | 09:00 am PT
Lawyers are worried their profession will disappear, but lawmakers say they are bound by their duty as citizens.

Vietnamese lawyers are concerned about revisions to the Penal Code that if approved would require them to expose their clients in cases of serious crimes or threats to national security.

The article, which is being discussed at the ongoing National Assembly session, says that lawyers will be held criminally responsible if they do not expose certain crimes.

Do Ngoc Thinh, chairman of the Vietnam Bar Association, said during a weekend meeting that exposing a criminal should be the responsibility of investigators and prosecutors.

Thinh said there is a chance that the profession will simply disappear if lawyers are not allowed to protect their clients.


Do Ngoc Thinh, chairman of the Vietnam Bar Association, speaks out against the proposed rule during a meeting with lawmakers in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Hai

Thinh suggested the law should be loosened. He accepted that lawyers are bound to expose their clients in cases where they are threat to national security. But in the case of “serious crimes", he said the list of 83 crimes should be shortened to 30.

But Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, chairwoman of the assembly, dismissed the suggestion.

Ngan said that besides the ethics of the career, a lawyer is also bound by the responsibility and ethics of a citizen.

The bill has also caused divisions among lawyers.

Nguyen Thai Hoc, who has been practicing law for eight years, supported the rule, saying that even family members should expose each other in cases of serious crimes.

Nguyen Van Chien, vice chairman of the Vietnam Bar Association, said that forcing lawyers to expose their clients might be pointless as current regulations do not allow investigators or prosecutors to use a suspect’s confession unless it relates to other evidence.

The updated Penal Code is among 13 new and revised laws expected to be passed before the session ends on June 22. Amendments to the code also include tougher punishments for pollution and food safety violations.

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