The Supreme People’s Court Observer contributed a post to the Global Military Justice Reform blog (a fascinating new blog that highlights military justice issues worldwide). The post highlights reasons given by Chinese military law experts for having General Gu’s trial closed to the public and possible reasons that Chinese military courts have a stealth presence on the internet (although more transparent than 20 years ago).
On 15 April, the Supreme People’s Court (Court) issued its latest model (or in this case, (all too typical cases): 7 typical cases of judicial misbehavior.
It is part of the name and shame campaign of the Communist Party’s Central Disciplinary Inspection Commission (CDIC), that appears to have started in September of last year, in which the CDIC releases typical cases of official corruption or other abuses, in violation of the Communist Party’s Eight Point Regulations (aimed at curbing official abuses). As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article, the CDIC has accelerated the release of cases on its website from weekly to monthly.
Although cases previously released on the CDIC website have included some cases from the judiciary, this is the first time that the Court has released such cases.
The Court issued a document summarizing the cases to the lower courts and to the CDIC (which often takes the lead in investigating judicial misbehavior, because most judicial officials are Communist Party members).
The Seven Cases
- Touring at public expense (a group from Kunming (Yunnan Province)’s Panlong District Court used RMB 88,000 in public funds to visit the beach resort of Sanya after participating in a training course in Haikou);
- Using public funds for gifts (a Shandong district court court president arranged for the purchase of RMB 23,000 in gift cards at a local supermarket and obtained reimbursement as “offiice supplies.”)
- Obtaining reimbursement for foot massages (two Hubei Province Intermediate Court Division heads submitted RMB 2500 in foot massage receipts; they and the Deputy Court President who approved the reimbursement were punished).
- Wasteful procurement of office equipment (a Shanxi District Court spent over RMB 200,000 on office equipment ).
- Using government vehicles for private use (a Shaanxi Province local Deputy Court President and two judicial policemen toured a scenic spot on the way back from an enforcement action);
- Large scale wedding banquets (a Heilongjiang county judge held large wedding banquets for his daughter and accepted RMB 27500 in monetary gifts);
- Office misbehavior (a Zhanjiang (Guangdong Province) )District Court division head held a meeting with a litigant wearing slippers and was found to be playing a game on his office computer).
These cases are typical
According to an analysis done by the People’s Daily Overseas Edition, these cases are typical of the cases released by the CDIC. Some of the highlights:
- Almost 40% of the CDIC cases released involved improper use of public funds or government vehicles;
- Of those, almost 25% involved touring at public expense;
- A significant number involved improper reimbursement;
- Some other “typical cases” involved officials playing computer games in the office (although there were local variations in this category);
- About 12% involved “over-the-top” purchases of office equipment or building construction;
- the infractions were relatively minor; and
- The cases involved local court judges rather than those in provincial level higher people’s courts or the Court itself.
Why were these cases released?
It appears likely that the Court released these cases because the CDIC issued a document requiring all government departments and SOEs to provide typical cases (although the document does not appear to have been released publicly) and the Court need to show that it was complying with this document.
Other likely reasons would be similar to those for other government officials: scare judicial personnel, especially those in leadership positions, into complying with Party restrictions. As the above graphic shows, it is meant as a bullhorn to those in leadership position in lower courts. The Court leadership realizes that the widespread public impression that judicial officials fiddle the system and do not take their work seriously is a threat to the court system. The typical cases are intended to provide evidence to ordinary people that the government is serious about corruption in the judiciary, and also to encourage people to report abuses. Why these particular seven cases were selected for release is not known.
The cases were released for the political reasons, not the substantive reasons discussed in my recent blogpost.
On 8 April 2014, the Communist Party’s Central Political Legal Committee and the General Political Department of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (the PLA’s highest Communist Party organization) jointly issued a document on improving the protection of the rights of the military, military personnel, and military dependents (关于加强维护国防利益和军人军属合法权益工作的意见) (PLA Legal Protection Opinion). The document itself has not been made public, but a summary has been widely distributed the press (including the People’s Court Daily website). The PLA Legal Protection Opinion has drawn caustic comments from some in the Chinese blogosphere for its request that the political legal authorities (the courts, procuratorate etc.) create a “green channel” to resolve military related disputes, by giving those disputes priority at all stages of criminal and civil procedure (from docketing cases to enforcement), and call for “special matters to be handled specially” (特事特办). .
The PLA Protection Opinion provides another glimpse into the interactions of the Communist Party bureaucracy, Chinese military and civilian legal systems, and the social and economic changes in China affecting the PLA. This blogpost describes:
- what the distribution list was;
- what the problems are;
- what the super committees are;
- the drafting process; and
- why the document was issued.
The Distribution List for the PLA Protection Opinion
The distribution list for the PLA Protection Opinion was not been made public. As a jointly issued document, it presumably was issued to the relevant Communist Party organizations in both the civilian and military bureaucracies. On the civilian side, it included the:
- Supreme People’s Court;
- Supreme People’s Procuratorate;
- Ministry of Public Security;
- Ministry of Civil Affairs;
- Ministry of Justice;
- Ministry of Finance;
- Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security;
- Ministry of Land and Natural Resources;
- National Civil Air Defense Office;
- National Leading Group on Double Support (see the following report, on the provincial level).
On the military side, presumably the General Political Department issued it to the military counterparts of many of the above authorities, including the PLA Military Court and PLA Military Procuratorate.
What are the Long Standing Legal Issues?
The long-standing legal issues are those involving both the civilian and military authorities, and include many of the unresolved ones listed in my previous blogpost. They include:
- theft and sale of military secrets;
- destruction of military facilities;
- mass incidents involving military interests;
- disputes over military technology;
- disputes over military land;
- thefts of military supplies;
- cases of persons passing themselves off as military personnel to engage in fraud and other criminal activity;
- Disputes affecting military personnel, including:
1. divorces and other family disputes;
2. personal injury disputes;
3. land condemnation;
4. disputes over compensation for compulsory land confiscation.
The Supercommittees and a glimpse into the document drafting process
The PLA Legal Protection Opinion calls for the establishment of a national coordination mechanism to support and protect military rights (全国涉军维权协调机制), (Supercommittees) replacing “the leading small groups on supporting and protecting military rights” established nationwide from 2007.
The Supercommittees are led by the Central Political Legal Committee and General Political Department (the top Party committees relating to the civilian and military legal systems), and require the government authorities to whom the document was issued (and their local counterparts at each level) to send liaison personnel. The Supercommittees are to establish counterparts at the provincial, municipal, and county level.
In an article published in the People’s Court and PLA Daily, a “responsible person” of the PLA Military Court described the drafting process, which mirrors the drafting process for Chinese legislation generally.
Staff from the Central Political Legal Committee and the PLA Military Court formed a drafting group and went to Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, and Shaanxi for field research, soliciting the views of local Party Secretaries, local courts, and military district officials, PLA officers and soldiers, including areas where local policies had been drafted to deal with military/civilian issues. A consultation draft was prepared and approved by the leadership of the Central Military Commission, General Political Department, and Central Political Legal Committee for distribution for comment to the relevant central government departments (including the Supreme People’s Court), leaders of major military institutions, and some local level military officials before being finalized.
Enforcing the PLA Legal Protection Opinion
The document seeks to ensure that it is taken seriously by calling for the following enforcement measures:
- PLA legal protection matters should be incorporated into local development plans; and
- they should be incorporated into performance evaluation for “comprehensive social management work” (performance in controlling social unrest).
Why was the document issued?
The document must have been issued because the previous leading small groups were not effective, and the result has been an increase in civil unrest involving civilians and military, unresolved civil disputes involving the military and its personnel as well as criminal cases involving civilians and military that have not been prosecuted.
The principal reason for these unresolved issues (in my view), is due to the separate operations of the military and civilian systems and the difficulty of coordinating across bureaucratic systems. Moreover, a substantial number of the unresolved cases are likely tied to the performance indicators for officials within the (civilian) legal system. Performance indicators for court and other officials within the legal system are generally tied to their percentage of closed cases or other success rates. For example, a civilian court will be reluctant to accept divorce cases involving a military spouse if orders to transfer property, registered within the military system, will not be enforced and the cases cannot be closed. Civilian public security officials, similarly, will be reluctant to take a case if some of the criminal activity has taken place on military premises, because investigating the crime and collecting evidence will be extremely difficult. The document reveals social and economic changes affecting the military (such as a higher rate of divorce and other family disputes), disputes over land condemnation affecting military personnel, as well as increased social unrest involving the PLA (that seems to be kept out of the press). Finally, it reveals the complex interrelationship between the military and civilian legal and administrative systems, and the use of law (or at least legal policy) in making it operate more smoothly.
The Supreme People’s Court Observer published (by invitation) Using Model Cases to Guide the Chinese Courts on the blog of the China Policy Institute of the University of Nottingham. The post discusses:
- what model cases are;
- which courts issue them;
- the authority of model cases;
- recent model cases the Court;
- why the Court (and the lower courts) are using them; and
- trends in the use of model cases.
Luohu District Court
The Luohu District Court (the Luohu court), which hears cases arising from the primarily urban Luohu administrative district in Shenzhen, in late March posted on its website (and Wechat account) an overview of the 24 domestic violence cases that it has heard in the last 3 years. The court identified four trends and “take-aways”:
- there has been a trend towards an increase in the average age of abusers, from 31-45, to over 60;
- the educational level and professional background of abusers has shifted to university educated, working in government agencies or foreign invested enterprises;
- the type of domestic violence has shifted from simple physical violence to emotional and economic abuse, creating more evidentiary difficulties and analytical issues for the courts; and
- the victims have become more aware of their legal rights. Victims are moving away from traditional attitudes of accepting domestic violence as part of family life to using the law to protect themselves, and are calling the police when domestic violence occurs and applying for civil protection orders.
The Luohu court saw the following take-aways:
- more psychological support should be provided locally, in residential areas, to prevent domestic violence from occurring;
- local institutions for resolving domestic disputes should be strengthened; and
- more should be done to make the public aware of domestic violence legislation.
This report from one district court reflects many of the messages about domestic violence being conveyed by the Supreme People’s Court. Further reports on the drafting of the domestic violence interpretation are awaited, to see whether it will involve the procuratorate, public security, and other authorities.