Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Choice of Norms in Courtroom Adjudication in Vietnam: In Search of Legitimacy in a Socialist Regulatory Context

  • Thi Quang Hong TRAN (a1)


Notwithstanding its defining feature of normative pluralism, the socialist state of Vietnam basically adopts a legal centralist approach to regulation. The judiciary is arguably the most illustrative of this approach, since it is the main forum where legal centralism encounters normative pluralism. Our research examines the choice of norms in judicial adjudication in Vietnam to check the effectiveness of its legal centralist approach. It finds that, despite lacking institutional support, judges managed to apply customary norms at their discretion against the state’s emphasis on top-down legal rules. A legitimacy-based analysis explains this phenomenon. It points out that judges conceptualized their legitimacy under the influence of both legal and extra-legal rules, thus making it apart from the legality. Judges attempt to bridge the gap between legitimacy and legality enabled de factor normative pluralism. In looking at the influence of customary norms over judicial adjudication, the article aims to make both theoretical and practical contributions. Theoretically, it enriches the scholarship of normative pluralism by showing how legitimacy-building keeps normative pluralism effective, irrespective of the dominating legal centralism. Practically, it proffers insightful implications for the ongoing court reforms in Vietnam based upon the findings.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Choice of Norms in Courtroom Adjudication in Vietnam: In Search of Legitimacy in a Socialist Regulatory Context
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Choice of Norms in Courtroom Adjudication in Vietnam: In Search of Legitimacy in a Socialist Regulatory Context
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Choice of Norms in Courtroom Adjudication in Vietnam: In Search of Legitimacy in a Socialist Regulatory Context
      Available formats



Hide All

Dr Tran Thi Quang Hong, PhD (Monash), is a legal researcher at the Institute of Legal Science, Ministry of Justice of Vietnam. Her research interests focus on the process of legal reforms and judicial reforms in Vietnam. Hong has participated in many research projects in the field of Civil Law, Commercial Law, Environmental Law, Regulatory Theories, Legal Culture, Political Economy, and Legal Reforms. She also participates in law-making advisory and law review in co-operation with the Office of Vietnam National Assembly, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and other ministerial agencies. The author would like to thank the judges from Lao Cai, Son La, and Lai Chau for sharing their experience and opinions and her colleagues at the Institute of Legal Science for their effective support in conducting the fieldwork in the above three provinces in late 2016 and early 2017. Gratefulness also goes to two Monash University lecturers: Professor John Gillespie for his valuable comments and suggestions on the early draft and to Dr Dinh Ngoc Thuy for her professional assistance. Correspondence to Dr Tran Thi Quang Hong, Institute of Legal Science, Hanoi, Vietnam. E-mail address:



Hide All
Baird, Vanessa A. (2001) “Building Institutional Legitimacy: The Role of Procedural Justice.” 54 Political Research Quarterly 333354.
Baugher, P. Frederic (1980) “The Contradiction of Colonialism: The French Experience in Indochina, 1860–1940.” PhD diss., University of Winconsin-Madison.
Beetham, David (2016) “Max Weber and the Legitimacy of the Modern State.” 13 Analyse & Kritik 3445.
Bộ Tư pháp [Ministry of Justice of Vietnam] (2017) Báo cáo số 109/BC-BTP ngày 17/4/2017 Đánh giá thực trạng pháp luật về xây dựng và thực hiện hương ước, quy ước và đề xuất chính sách, định hướng trong dự thảo Quyết định của Thủ tướng Chính phủ về xây dựng, thực hiện hương ước, quy ước [Report 109/BC-BTP dated 17 April 2017 Evaluating the Situation of Law on Developing and Implementing Village Conventions and Proposing the Policy and Direction for Drafting the Prime Minister’s Decision on Developing and Implementing Village Conventions], Hanoi.
Bottoms, Anthony, & Tankebe, Justice (2012) “Beyond Procedural Justice: A Dialogic Approach to Legitimacy in Criminal Justice.” 102 The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 119170.
Bùi, Quang Dũng (2013) “Hương ước và mấy vấn đề quản lý nông thôn hiện nay [Village Convention and Some Current Issues of Rural Governance].” 1 Xã hội học [Sociology] 917.
Bùi, Thị Bích Liên (2016) “Regulatory Interaction in Court-based Resolution of Inheritance Disputes in Vietnam.” PhD diss., Monash University.
Bùi Xuân Đính (1985) Lệ làng phép nước [Village Rules and State Law], Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản pháp lý [Law Publishing House].
Cema (2016) “The Community of All Ethnic Groups in Vietnam,” (accessed 2 December 2016).
Chính phủ [The Government of Vietnam] (2014) “Tờ trình số 287 /TTr-CP ngày 15/8/2014 về dự án Bộ luật dân sự (sửa đổi)” [Notes No. 287 /TT 2014 on the Project of the Civil Code (amended)].
Crouch, Melissa (2012) “Law and Religion in Indonesia: The Constitutional Court and the Blasphemy Law.” 7 Asian Journal of Comparative Law 548.10.1515/1932-0205.1391
Đại học Luật Hà Nội [Hanoi Law University] (2013) Lý luận nhà nước và pháp luật [Theories of State and Law], Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản công an nhân dân [The People’s Police Publishing House].
Đào Trí Úc (2003) Hương ước trong quá trình thực hiện dân chủ ở nông thôn hiện nay [Village Convention in the Current Process of Implementing Democracy in Vietnam’s Rural Area], Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản chính trị quốc gia [National Political Publishing House].
Đỗ Quang Hưng (2008) “Building a Secular State Model in the Diversified Religious Environment: The Invariable and the Variable—the Case of Vietnam” Paper VNH3.TB3.585 presented at the 3rd International Conference on Vietnam, Hanoi, 5–7 December 2008.
Ellickson, Robert C. (1991) Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Engel, David M., & Engel, Jaruwan S. (2010) Tort, Custom, and Karma: Globalization and Legal Consciousness in Thailand, Stanford, CA: Stanford Law Books
Fallon, R. H. Jr. (2005) “Legitimacy and the Constitution.” 118 Harvard Law Review 17891853.
Galligan, D. J. (2007 ) Law in Modern Society , New York: Oxford University Press.
Garner, Brian A. (2007) Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th edn, Eagan: West Publishing Co.
Gibson, James L., & Nelson, Michael J. (2014) “The Legitimacy of the US Supreme Court: Conventional Wisdoms and Recent Challenges Thereto.” 10 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 201219.10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-110413-030546
Gillespie, John (2007) “Rethinking the Role of Judicial Independence in Socialist-Transforming East Asia.” 56 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 837870.10.1093/iclq/lei203
Gillespie, John (2011) “Exploring the Role of Legitimacy and Identity in Framing Responses to Global Legal Reforms in Socialist Transforming Asia.” 29 Wisconsin International Law Journal 534579.
Gillespie, John (2013) “New Transnational Governance and the Changing Composition of Regulatory Pluralism in Southeast Asia.” 9 The Asian Journal of Comparative Law 6595.10.1017/S2194607800000934
Gribnau, J. L. M. (2002) “Legitimacy of the Judiciary.” 6 Electronic Journal of Comparative Law 2546.
Griffiths, John (1986) “What Is Legal Pluralism?24 Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 155.10.1080/07329113.1986.10756387
Griffiths, John (2006) “The Idea of Sociology of Law and Its Relation to Law and Sociology,” in M. Freeman, ed., Law and Sociology: Current Legal Issues, New York: Oxford University Press, 4968.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199282548.003.0004
Hà Hùng Cường (2009) “Hoàn thiện hệ thống pháp luật đáp ứng yêu cầu xây dựng nhà nước pháp quyền XHCN [Improving the Legal System to Meet the Requirements of the Socialist Rule of Law],” Nghiên cứu lập pháp điện tử [Legislative Studies Online], (accessed 30 November 2018).
Hechter, Michael (2009) “Introduction: Legitimacy in the Modern World.” 53 American Economic Review 279288.
Hermann, Donald H. J. (1983) “Max Weber and the Concept of Legitimacy in Contemporary Jurisprudence.” 33 DePaul Law Review 129.
Học viện chính trị-hành chính quốc gia Hồ Chí Minh [Hochiminh Academy of Politics and Public Administration] (2008) Lý luận nhà nước và pháp luật [Theories of State and Law], Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản lý luận chính trị [The Political Theories Publishing House].
Jamieson, Neil L. (1995) Understanding Vietnam, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.10.1525/california/9780520201576.001.0001
Jolls, Christine, Sunstein, Cass R., & Thaler, Richard (1998) “A Behavioral Approach to Law and Economics.” 50 Stanford Law Review 14711550.10.2307/1229304
Kane, John, Loy, Hui-Chieh, & Patapan, Haig (2010) “Introduction to the Special Issue: The Search for Legitimacy in Asia: Legitimacy in the Contemporary Global Order.” 38 Politics & Policy 381394.10.1111/j.1747-1346.2010.00240.x
Lê Minh Thông (2008) Luật nước và hương ước, lệ làng trong đời sống pháp lý của các cộng đồng làng xã Việt Nam [State Law and Village Convention in the Legal Life of Village Communities in Vietnam], Paper VNH3.TB7.851 at the 3rd International Conference on Vietnam, Hanoi, 5–7 December 2008.
Lin, Timothy E. (1999) “Social Norms and Judicial Decisionmaking: Examining the Role of Narratives in Same-Sex Adoption of Cases.” 3 Columbia Law Review 739794.10.2307/1123520
Liu, Sida (2006) “Beyond Global Convergence: Conflicts of Legitimacy in a Chinese Lower Court.” 31 Law & Social Inquiry 75106.10.1111/j.1747-4469.2006.00003.x
Lupu, Yonatan (2013) “International Judicial Legitimacy: Lessons from National Courts.” 14 Theoretical Inquiries in Law 437454.10.1515/til-2013-022
Mahoney, Paul G., & Sanchirico, Chris William (2001) “Competing Norms and Social Evolution: Is the Fittest Norm Efficient?149 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 2067–2062.10.2307/3312904
McLachlin, P. C. (2001) “The Role of Judges in Modern Society—Remarks of the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C. Chief Justice of Canada,” Speech delivered at the The Fourth Worldwide Common Law Judiciary Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, 5 May.
Ngô Đức Thịnh (2003) Tìm hiểu luật tục các tộc người ở Việt Nam [An Inquiry of the Tribal Laws of Vietnamese Ethnic Groups], Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản khoa học xã hội [Social Science Publishing House].
Ngô Đức Thịnh (2014) Luật tục trong đời sống các tộc người ở Việt Nam [Customary Laws in the Life of Different Tribes in Vietnam], Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản Tư pháp [Judicial Publishing House].
Ngô Huy Cương (2010) “Cụ thể hóa quan điểm về tập quán pháp theo Nghị quyết số 48 – NQ/TW của Bộ Chính trị, Tạp chí nghiên cứu lập pháp điện tử [Specifying the Viewpoints on Customary Laws in the Resolution No 48-NQ/TW of the Politburo].” Nghiên cứu lập pháp điện tử [Legislative Studies online], (accessed 18 December 2018).
Nguyễn, Đăng Dung (2012) “Các yêu cầu của tư pháp trong nhà nước pháp quyền [Judicial Requirements in the Rule of Law],” in Nguyễn Đăng Dung, ed., Toà án Việt Nam trong bối cảnh xây dựng nhà nước pháp quyền [Vietnamese Court in the Context of Developing the Rule of Law], Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản Đại học quốc gia Hà Nội [Hanoi National University Press].
Nguyễn Mạnh Thắng (2016) Áp dụng tập quán trong các tranh chấp thương mại [Applying Customary Law to Commercial Disputes], Hanoi: Nhà Xuất bản chính trị quốc gia [The National Politic Publishing House].
Nguyễn, Văn Trọng, et al. (2012) Nghiên cứu đánh giá những tập quán của đồng bào dân tộc miền núi khu vực phía Bắc ảnh hưởng xấu đến đời sống kinh tế – xã hội- Một số giải pháp và kiến nghị [Customary Norms of the Ethnic Minority Groups in the Northern Vietnam that Adversely Affect the Socio-Economic Life – Some Solutions and Measures], Hanoi: Uỷ ban Dân tộc [The Committee of Ethnic Minorities Affairs].
Nicholson, Penelope (2002) “The Vietnamese Courts and Corruption,” in T. Lindsey & H. Dick, eds., Corruption in Asia: Rethinking the Governance Paradigm, Sydney: The Federation Press, 201218.
Nicholson, Pip (2015) “Renovating Courts: The Role of Courts in Contemporary Vietnam,” in J. Yeh & W. Chang, eds., Asian Courts in Context, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 528565.
Nicholson, Pip, & Duong, Minh (2010) “Legitimacy and the Vietnamese Economic Court,” in A. Harding & P. Nicholson, eds., New Courts in Asia, London: Routledge, 3155.
Posner, Richard A. (1997) “Rational Choice, Behavioral Economics, and the Law.” 50 Stanford Law Review 15511575.10.2307/1229305
Posner, Richard A. (2007) Social Norms, Nonlegal Sanctions, and the Law, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Quinn, Brian J. M. (2003) “Vietnam’s Continuing Legal Reform: Gaining Control Over the Courts.” 4 Asian-Pacific Law and Policy Journal 431468.
Ruibal, Alba (2010) “The Sociological Concept of Judicial Legitimacy: Notes of Latin American Constitutional Courts.” 3 Mexican Law Review 343356.
Scott, James (2009) The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Segall, Eric J. (2012) Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court Is Not a Court and Its Justices Are Not Judges, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Steiner, Kerstin (2015) “Governing Islam: The State, the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) and Islam in Singapore.” 16 Australian Journal of Asian Law 116.
Thảo, Nguyên “Doanh nghiệp Việt đang đi trên cầu khỉ [Vietnamese Business Are Walking on a Single-Wood Brigde]”, VnEconomy (Online), 27 August 2015, (accessed 18 December 2018).
Trương Hoà, Bình & Cường, Ngô (2014) Hệ thống toà án của một số nước trên thế giới (kinh nghiệm cho Việt Nam) [Court Systems in Some Countries in the World (the Lessons for Vietnam)], Hanoi: Supreme Court of Vietnam and Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Tsuneki, Atsushi, & Zasu, Yoshinobu (2010) “On the Complementarity between Law and Social Norm: A Model Analysis with Special Reference to the Liability Rule for Tort.” 765 The Institute of Social and Economic Research, 117.
Tưởng, D. Lượng (2009) Pháp luật dân sự và thực tiễn xét xử [Civil Law and Judicial Practices], Hanoi: Nhà xuất bản chính trị quốc gia [Political Publishing House].
Tyler, Tom R. (1990) Why People Obey the Law, New Haven: Yale University Press.
Tyler, Tom R., & Sevier, Justin (2014) “How Do the Courts Create Popular Legitimacy? The Role of Establishing the Truth, Punishing Justly, and/or Acting through Just Procedure.” Yale Law School, Faculty Scholarship Series Paper 4991, (accessed 30 November 2018).
VII Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam (1993) Nghng through Just the Liability Rule for Tort. Lessons for Vietnam)]3về tiếp tục đổi mới và phát triển kinh tếsterhủ về xây dựng, thực hiện hương ước, quy ước [the interpretation tinuing to Renovate and Develop the Socio-economic Situation in the Rural].
Võ Trí Hảo (2003) “Vai trò giải thích pháp luật của Toà án [On the Court’s Role in Legal Interpretation].” 3 Tạp chí Khoa học pháp lý [Legal Science Journal], (accessed 30 November 2018).
Weber, Max (1978) Economy and Society, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Wells, Michael L. (2007) “Sociological Legitimacy in Supreme Court Opinions.” 64 Washington & Lee Law Review 10111070.
Wendel, W. B. (2002) “Mixed Signals: Rational-Choice Theories of Social Norms and the Pragmatics of Explanation.” 77 Indiana Law Journal 162.
Wengraf, Tom (2001) Qualitative Research Interviewing: Biographic Narrative and Semi-Structured Methods, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.10.4135/9781849209717
Whitmore, John K. (1994) “Social Organization and Confucian Thought in Vietnam.” 15 Journal of Southeast Asia Studies 296306.10.1017/S0022463400012534
Yoo, John C. (2001) “In Defense of the Court’s Legitimacy.” 68 The University of Chicago Law Review 774791.10.2307/1600402



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed