I am going to take a step back this week and speak basics. I was asked by a young lawyer what the difference between law in the West and Vietnam is. So I figured if a lawyer has that question, there might be others as well.

The law of Vietnam is a civil law system built on top of ancient imperial systems that were borrowed largely from China. This means that there is a bit of a hodgepodge of law.

Regardless, the law in Vietnam comes from the law giver, or the National Assembly and the Government in the form of decrees, laws, etc. These laws are the be all and end all of the law. There is no other way of interpreting the law besides what is written in the official proclamations, though administrative agencies take their own interpretations and sometimes do so consistently.

This causes a deal of confusion, at least at the whim of the administrative, because one law can be interpreted differently by different entities and there is no supreme law interpreter. This is a problem across the civil law world and one that Vietnam is actually seeking to amend.

A year of so ago, and this is unconfirmed, but I read that the Supreme Court is taking steps to make its own decisions precedential. In other words, they will have the power to interpret the law, and that interpretation will be binding to the lower courts. This is a hybrid system and I’m not sure whether it’s been implemented or not, but it is interesting.

Without that interpretation, the laws stand on their own.

In the West, at least in Common Law countries, much of the law is made by interpretation because the law makers take an inordinate amount of time to add additional laws to make clear what was hazy to begin with.

That’s the basic difference, the interpreter of the law. The law giver remains the same, and the enforcer the same, but the interpreter, and the powers of the interpreter are different, though that may be changing in Vietnam, time will tell.