June 21, 2017
Vietnam should immediately repeal a provision in its revised penal code that would hold lawyers criminally responsible for not reporting clients to the authorities for a number of crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. The revised code also contains a number of changes heightening criminal penalties against criticism of the government or Vietnam’s one-party state.
“Requiring lawyers to violate lawyer-client confidentiality will mean that lawyers become agents of the state and clients won’t have any reason to trust their lawyers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Vietnam considers any criticism or opposition to the government or Communist Party to be a ‘national security’ matter – this will undermine any possibility of real legal defense in such cases.”
On June 20, 2017, the Vietnamese National Assembly passed a revised penal code that will come into effect on January 1, 2018. Article 19, section 3 of the revised penal code states that, “[When] the person who does not report [on people] is a defender, he/she is not held criminally accountable in accordance with clause 1 of this article, except 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.”
Many Vietnamese lawyers publicly voiced their concerns about this new requirement. On June 12, the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association submitted a letter to the National Assembly urging it to drop the clause. According to the letter, the new clause conflicts with the revised Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on Lawyers, which requires legal defenders to keep information about their cases confidential. The letter states that this new clause is “a step back from the 1999 Penal Code.”