At some point in the next 12 months, China will reach a key milestone: For the first time in its long history, the number of lawyers will surpass the number of judges. In a country where Confucian culture has always frowned upon litigation, and where lawyers were long considered as “legal tricksters” undermining social harmony, the importance of this event cannot be underestimated.
For sure, 190,000 lawyers in a country of 1.3 billion people might still seem modest. But given that the legal profession was only reinstated after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, and that prior to 1996 there were almost no private law firms, this can only be seen as a major achievement, matching China’s economic renaissance.
Yet if lawyers now enjoy increasing independence, those who defend human rights are increasingly under attack, with legal restrictions impeding their ability to provide an effective defense, to champion causes that challenge local power, or to form independent bar associations.
The balance is HERE.