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LEGAL TRAINING RESOURCE CENTER
Laos, formally known as Lao People's Democratic Republic, comprises 16 provinces and 1 capital city, Vientiane. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the control of Thailand from the 18th to the late 19th century, when it became part of French Indochina. In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1988, but Laos is still a communist country. The predominant religions are Theravada Buddhism and Animism. There are also small numbers of Christians and Muslims.
The official and dominant language is Lao, with minorities speaking an assortment of Mon-Khmer, Hmong-Yao, and Tibeto-Burman languages. French, once common in government and commerce, has declined in usage, while knowledge of English has increased in recent years.
Type of System
The judicial branch of Laos consists of the People’s Supreme Court, the appellate courts, the People’s Provincial Courts and city courts, the People’s District Courts, and the military courts.
According to Article 83 of the Law on Criminal Procedure, the court that has jurisdiction to decide a criminal case, at first instance, is the court where the incident occurred or where the defendant lives. In general, the people’s district, municipal, provincial, or city court has jurisdiction to decide cases as a court of first instance. The people’s district or municipal court has jurisdiction to decide criminal cases relating to minor offences.
The legal system is based on traditional customs, French legal norms and procedures, and socialist practices.
Sources of Defendants' Rights
The Constitution was promulgated on 14 August 1991 (last amended in 2003) and its Chapter IV is titled “Fundamental Rights and Obligations of Citizens”. Article 6 asserts that “the State protects the freedom and democratic rights of the people which cannot be violated by anyone”, and “all acts of bureaucratism and harassment that can be detrimental to the people’s honor, physical well-being, lives, consciences and property are prohibited”.
The 2004 Law on Criminal Procedure and the 1990 Penal Law contain additional defendant’s rights.
According to Article 28 of the Law on Criminal Procedure, an accused or defendant has the right to be informed of and defend himself against the charges made against him; submit evidence and requests; make copies of the documents in the case file after investigation has been completed; retain and meet with a lawyer to contest the case; participate in court hearings; require the recusal of a judge, public prosecutor, interrogator, investigator, expert, or translator; complain against their acts or orders; make a final statement in court hearings as the last party; appeal against, or request the cancellation of, an order of an investigator, an interrogator, or a public prosecutor, or an instruction, order, or decision of the people’s courts.
Article 42 of the Constitution states that Lao citizens are inviolable in their bodies, honor and houses. Beating or torture of the arrested person is, therefore, expressly prohibited. The Law on Criminal Procedure clearly says that “in the taking of testimony from the accused person or defendant, or from individuals who participate in the proceedings, it is prohibited to use violence, force, threats, beating, or other unlawful measures” (Article 17 LCP).
Article 154 of the Penal Law provides a punishment for any civil servant engaging in the intentional excessive use of the authority provided by law, thereby adversely affecting the interests of the State, society, or the rights and interests of citizens. As well, Article 171 of the Penal Law states that any person using physical violence and torture, or other measures inconsistent with the law, against suspects or prisoners during arrest, trial or serving of sentence shall be punished by 3 months to 3 years of imprisonment or re-education without deprivation of liberty.
It is prohibited to arrest, detain, or conduct any search without an order from a public prosecutor or from a people’s court, except in the case of flagrante delicto or urgency. The arrest order, along with its cause shall be declared to the person to be arrested.
If, after taking testimony from a suspect, reliable evidence is found that he committed an offense for which the laws prescribe the penalty of deprivation of liberty, the head of the investigating organization or the public prosecutor may issue an order to detain the suspect for 48 hours to conduct further investigations. The investigating organization shall report in writing to the public prosecutor within 24 hours from the time of the detention. After receiving the request, the public prosecutor must decide within 24 hours whether to release or to remand the detainee (Article 61 Law on Criminal Procedure). When a deprivation of liberty goes beyond the period provided for in the laws or court decisions, the public prosecutor shall issue an order to release the person immediately. According to the Law on Criminal Procedure, any individual who arrests, detains, or conducts any search in contravention of the laws shall be subjected to criminal proceedings and shall be criminally liable.
Cases shall be conducted in open court proceedings except if otherwise provided by the laws. The court shall ensure that criminal proceedings are conducted correctly and objectively (Article 83 Constitution and Articles 6 and 13 law on Criminal Procedure). Defendants, who must be regarded as innocent and treated as such until they have been convicted, have the right to defend themselves with the assistance of a lawyer (Article 83 Constitution, Article 7 Law on Criminal Procedure).
The trial commences with a screening procedure of the case performed by one judge of the court, and it does not include the presence of the accused or his lawyer. The president of the court then determines the time for the court hearing, if he deems that the investigation has been conducted correctly and completely.
After a trial is declared open, the presiding judge of the judicial tribunal asks for the biography of the defendant, and asks that the defendant be informed of the order of prosecution and the charges.
Evidence must include proof of the defendant’s guilt as well as of his innocence, and it should be evaluated based on a comprehensive and objective consideration of the case. If the evidence casts doubts on the accused’s guilt, such person must be released from charges (Articles 20 and 2 Law on Criminal Procedure).
Lao Law on Criminal Procedure provides for the temporary detention (“remand”) of the defendant for the purpose of investigations, pending the trial. The detention shall not exceed 3 months, with the possibility to extend it for additional 3 months. Persons remanded shall be detained separately from prisoners and shall be in appropriate conditions as they are regarded as innocent. If the remand continues beyond that time and there is insufficient evidence to prosecute the accused, the public prosecutor shall immediately issue a release order.
The defendant, or his lawyer, have the right to request an appeal against an instruction, order, or decision of the court at first instance. The court of appeal not only considers the matters of appeal or objection, but it reviews the whole case in relation to all the defendants, not just the defendant before the court on appeal.. The appellate court has the right to reduce the penalty, but has no right to increase the penalty, except when there is an objection of the public prosecutor. The same parties have the right to request the Court of Cassation to review the conformity of an instruction, order, or decision to the laws.
- 2004 Prison Population: 4.020 with 69 detainees for 100,000 people, based on an estimated national population of 5.8 million at mid-2004. 1% of the prison population is composed of pre-trial detainees or remand prisoners.
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