March 27, 2019
The Laos Civil Code that JICA had helped to draft was established at the end of last year. A ceremony was held in February of this year in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and the related persons from both Laos and Japan celebrated this major milestone. The Civil Code consists of 630 provisions that will be the rules that support the Laotian nation and society, and it is expected to contribute to realizing the rights and benefits of residents.
Twenty years have passed since JICA began providing legal and judicial cooperation to Laos. This article introduces the journey of that cooperation through the perspectives of those involved from both the Japanese and the Laotian sides.
A ceremony celebrating the establishment of the Civil Code was held in the Laotian capital city of Vientiane on February 19 and was attended by many related persons including Minister of Justice Xaysy Santivong.
Ceremony celebrating the establishment of the Civil Code
The Minister said, “This will strengthen the Laotian legal and judicial fields and I am very grateful for the major contribution Japan has made to helping the country transition to a society and nation ruled by law,” and also mentioned that he looks forward to on-going support spreading application of the Civil Code and promoting legal education.
National Assembly when the Civil Code was established
JICA began providing legal and judicial cooperation in mainly Asia in 1996. The support to Laos began in 1998, and JICA has been helping to draft the Civil Code since 2012. The Civil Code was approved by the National Assembly in December of last year with more than 90% of the vote. After a period to become familiar with the Code, it will come into force in 2020. This is the fourth country after Vietnam, Cambodia, and Nepal that JICA has provided support for establishing a Civil Code.
“When it was passed by the National Assembly, the members associated with the drafting were very happy and which gave me joy that I was not able to express in words. The Civil Code is law that will be the foundation of our development. People that want to do business, people that want to form contracts, will be able to proceed with their activities resting assured they are based on uniform principles.” Those words of joy were expressed by Vice President Bounkhouang Thavisack of the People’s Supreme Court who worked in cooperation with JICA for 20 years.
The road to establishing the Civil Code was not an easy one.
This was the first drafting of a civil code in the history of Laos. Vice President Bounkhouang reflected that at the time, “We didn’t know where to search for information or how to research this. There were people who didn’t know about the JICA project, and there were some related people in Laos who were not cooperative at first.”
Under those circumstances it was necessary to revise the existing law while researching the legal systems of foreign countries. The project included members from a variety of organizations, such as the Laotian courts, Ministry of Justice, the Procuratorate, and the national university so there were gaps in knowledge and experience among the members.
Civil Code study group
What the Japanese side focused on was the independence of Laos. During the 1800s, Japan also studied the legal systems of foreign countries and had the experience that “the law of other countries forced on a nation will not take hold.”
Attorney Katsunori Irie, who was dispatched to Laos as a long-term specialist, said that he wanted to focus on getting the people of Laos to get involved and think on their own about what kind of civil code would fit the Laotian society and culture because he felt it was important to foster people who could draft new laws in the future, research civil law, and who could teach civil law to the people who would become the lawyers of the future.
JICA first created civil law textbooks, cases studies, and other materials for the Laotian Ministry of Justice and the courts. Thereafter, many Japanese legal experts including lawyers, prosecutors, and university professors exchanged opinions with the Laotian side to thoroughly consider each of the Civil Code provisions one at a time.
Textbooks, practical manuals, etc., created by the project
Vice President Bounkhouang praised Japan for the large contribution it made to fostering people in the Laotian legal field saying, “The Japanese experts and professors came to Laos and taught us how to do the research and other things. Japan’s experience and system were very informative and participating in the project was as intense as going to university. The many textbooks and workbooks that JICA made are even today being used in the court training centers and will surely continue to be used and be useful for a long time.”
Professor Hiroshi Matsuo of the Keio University Law School said that, “the Laotian members were interested in various laws and came to put forth their own assertions and counterarguments from the standpoint of Laotian citizens. The establishment of the Civil Code is just the ‘start of the journey.’ Going forward it is important to pursue a legal system that matches Laos as society changes due to the effects of democratization.”
He also shared this episode from the ceremony.
“One of the Laotian Civil Code drafting members said to me, ‘Mr. Matsuo, thank you, thank you, will you take a photo together with me?’ and then the members who had worked on the drafting gathered for the photo one after the other. I had always debated with them with conviction as a jurist. There was always tension, but what we had in common was continuing to consider, ‘What is the best law for Laos?’ Seeing them happy from the bottoms of their hearts was an irreplaceable experience.”