As China Cracks Down on Dissidents, It Also Promises Legal Reform - China Real Time Report - WSJ:
by Stanley Lubman
"There is no doubt that legal reform in China will be carried out under the control and leadership of the Communist Party— while the repressive crackdown on speech and conduct threatening party rule is continues. Legal reform was addressed in a lengthy document issued last month by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party after the conclusion of its latest meeting, known as the Fourth Plenum.
Earlier this year, pilot projects have begun to test some useful reforms that could strengthen the judicial system. The plenum document, known as the Decision, does suggest–even if in generalities–positive progress by addressing judicial selection, establishment of circuit tribunals, improvements in judicial procedure and reform of the system for accepting lawsuits known as the “case filing system.”
The Decision places significant emphasis on reducing the power of local governments over basic-level courts. It calls for the appointment of lower court judges to be made at the provincial level instead of by local officials. “Selection systems” are to be established, but it is unclear how they would be chosen and by whom.
Before the Fourth Plenum took place there was some discussion of provincial “judicial selection committees,” being established. Such a move, if successful, could reduce the influence of lower-level governments on the local courts, which is often referred to as an example of “horizontal” guanxi, or connections. Even if the system of provincial appointments is established, the question remains of what kinds of extra-legal influences could be exerted downward on the lower courts.
The Decision also calls for the establishment of circuit tribunals of the Supreme People’s Court that would adjudicate cases that involve more than one province.
Perhaps one of the more important provisions in the Decision calls for reform of the “case filing” system in the courts. Currently, when a prospective litigant seeks to initiate a lawsuit, the documents must be presented to the case filing division at the court. That office decides whether to accept the case as suitable for subsequent adjudication or reject the case without adjudication, thereby depriving the litigant of the right to a hearing. The Decision provides for elimination of this practice and for changing the procedure to a “case registration” system."
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