24 September 2018

POLICY WATCH: A long and winding road to judicial reform

China is frequently criticized for its poor legal system, with farcical trials wherein the outcome is predetermined and the defendants have little scope of getting a fair hearing. Verdicts are delivered in double-quick time with only the pretense of due process. Courts are seen as mere tools of authorities in furthering their political objectives.

Given the current reality, it is unrealistic to expect any drastic change in the legal system in the country in the near future. That said, some rethinking appears to be underway among top leaders on the need for judicial reforms to make the system respond better to the needs of the people and protect the rights and interests of the ordinary citizens.

To build a new China under the rule of law, it is imperative to build a fair, efficient and authoritative socialist judicial system and safeguard the rights and legitimate interests of the people, China’s leaders said in a communique after the recent plenum of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.

More efforts should be made to uphold the constitution and laws, deepen reforms in administrative law enforcement and ensure independence and fairness in prosecuting bodies and courts, the document said, also calling for improved judicial practice and protection of human rights.

Ensuring independent exercise of judicial authority by the courts based on constitutional principles, and firm resistance to all forms of local and departmental protectionism are among the various points outlined in a long list of recommendations.

“Eliminate power, money, allegiances, relationships and other extrajudicial disturbances,” the document urged.

Observers say the government’s new direction in judicial reform is sparking hopes for an improved environment on the human rights front.

The reform call comes as China has been elected to the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year term from 2014 to 2016, despite massive criticism from international rights activists and Chinese dissidents.

Under the existing system, the judges are government-appointed and not considered independent. With the reform call, the leadership has in a way admitted that the justice system needs to be overhauled to introduce fairness and equality, observers say.

Of course, skepticism abounds over how far the reform will really go given the influence of local government officials in the legal system. For example, officials who accept bribes often use their power to influence the verdicts.

Prior to the third plenum, the Supreme People’s Court issued a circular saying the judicial system must get rid of corruption and stop officials from interfering in court decisions.

The latest reform proposal calls for making trials more efficient, offer greater protection for lawyers, and deliver “open justice” with greater transparency, with the public informed of key developments through microblogs and other new communication tools.

Scientific macro-control efforts and effective governance by state entities are a “basic requirement” to tap the strengths of China’s socialist market economic system, the document says.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]


    EJ Insight writer

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