Vietnam’s judicial bodies are the Supreme People’s Court, the local People’s Courts at the provincial, district, and city levels, the military tribunals, and the People’s Organs of Control. At the apex of the judicial system is the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), which is the highest court for appeal and review. The SPC reports to the National Assembly, which controls the judiciary’s budget and confirms the president’s nominees to the SPC and Supreme People’s Procuracy. The Supreme People’s Procuracy issues arrest warrants, sometimes retroactively. Below the SPC are district and provincial people’s courts, military tribunals, and administrative, economic, and labor courts. The people’s courts are the courts of first instance. The Ministry of Defense (MOD) has military tribunals, which have the same rules as civil courts. Military judges and assessors are selected by the MOD and SPC, but the SPC has supervisory responsibility.
Local people’s courts function at each administrative level except at the village level, where members of the village administrative committees serve in a judicial capacity. Proceedings of local courts are presided over by people’s assessors. The Supreme People’s Court is the highest tribunal and is charged with the supervision of subordinate courts. As a court of first instance, it tries cases involving high treason or other crimes of a serious nature; and as the highest court of appeals, it reviews cases originating with the lower courts. Appeals are infrequent, however, because lower courts tend to act as final arbiters. The Supreme People’s Court chief justice is elected by the National Assembly on the recommendation of the president for a five-year term.
The Supreme People’s Organs of Control function as watchdogs of the state and work independently of all other government agencies, although they are nominally responsible to the National Assembly. They are subordinate to the People’s Supreme Organ of Control also known as the People’s Supreme Procurate, which, in turn, is headed by a chief procurator or procurator general. These organs exercise extraordinary powers of surveillance over government agencies at every level, including the court system and agencies for law enforcement.
Under special circumstances, such as showcase trials involving breaches of national security, the National Assembly or the Council of State may set up special tribunals. Judges are elected for a term equivalent to that of the bodies that elected them, and trials are held with the participation of people’s assessors, who may also act as judges. The Constitution guarantees defendants the right to plead their cases. Cases are prosecuted by a procurator.