Vietnam’s shift from a centrally planned to a market economy has transformed the country from one of the poorest in the world into a lower middle-income country. Vietnam now is one of the most dynamic emerging countries in South East Asia.

Despite this progress, inequality persists with many still living in poverty.  In recognition of the linkages between poverty, legal exclusion and injustice, IRLI has partnered with access to justice organisation, BABSEA-CLE, to assist in enhancing Clinical Legal Education (CLE) within universities in Vietnam.

Quite broadly, CLE is an innovative approach to legal training that seeks to complement the theoretical training students receive in the classroom with practical, hands-on experience.  It is seen as a means to embed student knowledge and understanding of the interaction of law in society, law in practice, the role of legal practitioners and law, advocacy and social change.  Learning through doing is encouraged to enhance skills and career prospects, while ultimately instilling in future lawyers a fundamental commitment to a lifetime engagement with public service and pro bono activities.

In 2011, solicitor Freda Grealy volunteered with BABSEA-CLE and upon return came sought to further engage Irish lawyers in building the capacity of law students in Vietnam.  BABSEA-CLE’s approach to CLE is explicitly public interest based in that students are encouraged to use their practical knowledge to benefit marginalised and disadvantaged people.  This is done primarily through community law programmes, student-run legal aid clinics and street law initiatives.  The current legal aid system in Vietnam has not succeeded in meeting the needs of poor and marginalised groups; in a recent survey of access to justice from the peoples’ perspective, only 37% of respondents were aware of legal aid services, and only 3% of the poorest people had access to them (UNDP 2010).  In these circumstances, the ability of law schools to provide free legal advice represents a strategic opportunity to strengthen the voice of marginalised groups, empower the communities through rights-based education and support the economic development of the poor.

April 2013 saw IRLI embark on its first CLE training visit to Foreign Trade University (Hanoi), Hue University and Ho Chi Minh University.  The workshops concentrated on experiential learning with specific focus on employment law and dispute resolution.

The project is currently seeking funding with a view to developing its activities.