Thursday,  Nov 15, 2018,12:49 (GMT+7) 0 0
Justice feared in the reverse gear
By Son Nguyen
Thursday,  Nov 8, 2018,21:47 (GMT+7)

Justice feared in the reverse gear

By Son Nguyen

Objection has been far and wide following the ruling last Friday by the Thai Nguyen Province Court of Appeal, sentencing Le Ngoc Hoang to six years behind bars for violating traffic rules when crashing his container truck into an Innova car in 2016 that killed four. National Assembly deputies, experts, lawyers, and judges among others have criticized the court’s verdict, which they say shows incompetence and wrong invocation of the law that not only victimize an innocent citizen but also put public justice at risk.

As shown in the court’s documents, Ngo Van Son, driver of the seven-seater Innova, transported ten people from Bac Ninh to Thai Nguyen on November 19, 2016. While on the expressway to Thai Nguyen, Son mistakenly drove past an exit, so he shifted into the reverse gear to get back to the exit. That was the point of tragedy when the container truck driven by Hoang failed to slow down and rammed into the passenger car, instantly killing four people in the Innova.

The appeal court upheld the first-instance court’s verdict, charging that Hoang did not maintain the required minimum distance between the two vehicles and failed to slow down the truck leading to the fatal accident. The appeal court, however, decided to give some leniency, reducing prison terms for Innova driver Ngo Van Son from ten to nine years, while Hoang’s sentence is cut to six from the previous eight years. Son and Hoang were also asked to make compensations of VND940 million and VND400 million to the relatives of the deceased, respectively.

Upon the verdict, people across the society have vented their objection and indignation, as seen in local media. Hundreds of news stories and commentaries are published these days, slamming the verdict as wrongly deliberated, demanding its review, and prompting the Supreme Court to step in.

The key controversy centers on the court’s verdict that says Hoang failed to keep the minimum distance between the two vehicles while on an expressway, and did not slow down his truck upon seeing obstruction on the road.

Than Quoc Hung, vice chair of Bac Giang Province’s People’s Court, says in Tuoi Tre that the verdict by Thai Nguyen Court’s judges is by no means appropriate. Traffic rules require drivers to maintain a certain distance depending on the speed of vehicles, and for this truck that was driving at 62kph, the regulatory distance is 35 meters. However, such a rule applies only to two vehicles moving on the same direction. Maintaining the distance between vehicles on opposite directions as in this case is impossible, says Hung.

Luu Binh Nhuong, an outspoken NA deputy, asks why the truck driver is slapped six years.

“What crime did he commit to get a jail term of six years?” ponders Nhuong on Vov.vn, the news site of the Voice of Vietnam radio station.

Lawyer Vu Ngoc Chi of the Hanoi Bar Association says in Vov.vn that the invocation of the law requiring drivers to maintain the safety distance as in this case is wrong. The container truck driver observed all regulations, and therefore cannot be found guilty, says the lawyer.

Dan Viet in a commentary says that the presiding judge’s interpretation of the law in this court case is problematic. “The conclusion by the judge that Hoang failed to maintain a safety distance is unreasonable, and shows a poor understanding of the law. To maintain the distance when the Innova moved back, then the container truck would also have to move back,” says the news site.

Similarly, Tien Phong says prevailing rules do not have any provisions that require drivers to maintain a safety distance when two vehicles are in the opposite direction, and in this case, the container truck driver is a victim rather than a violator.

Upon the charge at the court that the truck driver did not slow down upon sight of obstruction on the road, Hoang in his own defense said that the obstruction was not static, but a moving one. In addition, upon seeing the backing Innova, he could not change to another traffic lane, as he saw another approaching vehicle. The driver also asked the judging council to figure out another way to avoid an accident, which he said was impossible in this case, according to Tien Phong.

In this deadly accident, the key culprit is the driver of the Innova, Ngo Van Son, says the media.

In Tuoi Tre, Lawyer Pham Van Chung says Son, who drove his vehicle backward on the expressway, should have taken the blame. In addition, Son also made several other violations, including drunk driving, and transporting ten passengers in a seven-seat vehicle.

If the law applies, it is Ngo Van Son who has to compensate Hoang for the accident, says Dan Viet. NA deputy Luu Binh Nhuong asserts in vov.vn that moving backward on the expressway constitutes gross violation.

Nguyen Van Tong, vice inspector general of Hanoi Department of Transport, affirmed at a seminar this week that “based on the Road Traffic Law 2008, the blame is on the Innova driver… and it is very difficult for the truck driver to avoid an accident in a situation like this,” according to Lao Dong.

Higher judiciary agencies have also stepped in to soothe public concerns.

Nguyen Hoa Binh, head of the Supreme People’s Court, told reporters on the sidelines of the NA sitting in Hanoi on Tuesday that Thai Nguyen People’s Court has been ordered to transfer all documents related to the case to the Supreme Court for review, says Vneconomy.

“We will have a working session with not only judiciary agencies but also transport experts over the case,” he is quoted in Vneconomy.

Commenting on the ruling, Lao Dong says it is ironic. If the verdict stands, it should be understood that “a driver moving at a right speed on the expressway will have only two options when seeing another vehicle moving backward: either he gets killed in the accident or gets jailed,” the paper says sarcastically in a commentary. It is not the justice the people want to see, says the paper.

If the verdict stands, says Dan Viet, it will set a bad precedent in similar court cases when those observing the law are also treated like violators, and it will be a setback for the country’s justice.

As the verdict has backfired, and as several State agencies have decided to step in, it is expected that the truck driver will be proclaimed innocent, after spending nearly two years in detention. Otherwise, justice in this case is in doubt, says media outlets.

Giving a sarcastic comparison, Lao Dong says that while the Innova moving backward has caused a tragic accident, the backward judging mindset at a court will also cause disasters for the people and the society. It is like justice is set in the reverse gear on the civilized legal highway.

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