An article on the judicial reforms in the 25 September edition of Southern Weekend (南方周末) is now making its way across Chinese social media, featuring an interview with Peking University Law professor Fu Yulin and Tsinghua University law professor He Haibo. The article addresses some of the questions many inside and outside of China have been asking:
- What is the status of the judicial reform pilot projects outside of Shanghai?
- What is the status of some of the issues mentioned in the judicial reform documents?
- Why haven’t China’s judicial reform documents been made public?
The two principal judicial reform documents approved by the highest political authorities are:
- the Fourth Five Year Plan Judicial Reform Outline, a summary of which was issued on 9 July (blogpost analysis here and here).
- the Shanghai Judicial Reform Pilot Project Work Plan（上海市司法改革试点工作方案). A detailed description of how the Shanghai authorities will implement this (上海市司法改革试点工作方案>实施意见) has been released by both the Shanghai and national press (an English translation available here).
The published reports on the Fourth Five Year Plan Judicial Reform Outline have mentioned that pilot projects would be implemented in Guangdong, Hubei, Jilin, Qinghai and Hainan, but no outlines of those pilot projects have surfaced.
What is the status of those judicial reform plans?
According to Southern Weekend, drafts for judicial reform plans for Guangdong, Hubei, Jilin, Qinghai, and Hainan are basically finished and have been submitted to the Central Political Legal Committee. They are awaiting approval.
What is the status of some of the issues mentioned in the judicial reform outlines?
Judicial selection committees
According to Southern Weekend, it is unresolved under the judicial reforms, who will select judges and how they will be selected. Plans for all five pilot plans designate the the head of the provincial political legal committee as the head of judicial selection committee, with the judicial selection committee to be based at the provincial political legal committee. The reforms in Shanghai are the exception, where the judicial selection committee will be based in the Shanghai Higher People’s Court. The two law professors interviewed suggest that the provincial people’s congress would have been more appropriate (for the other five pilot plans), but they state that the people’s congresses in these locations did not want to take on that role. (And one comment on the article was that the Party, after all, selects people’s congress members.)
The law professors stressed the need for legal professionals to be members of judicial selection committees. One noted that in China, the principle of “the Party manages cadres” (党管干部) cannot be avoided and suggested that judicial selection committee and Party organization department clearance could run parallel.
It seems that the tension between Party involvement and professionalism in judicial selection remains an issue.
Quota system for judges
The quota system for judges refers to establishing quotas on the numbers of judges in relation to other personnel within the judicial system. As described in these articles, the plan in Shanghai is to limit judges to 33%, with administrative and support staff constituting 55% and 15% respectively. The framework in Shanghai has been widely discussed and criticized in the Chinese legal press and on social media, particularly for its impact on younger judges, who note that they would not fit the judicial criteria and would be made “obsolete.”
Professor Fu echos criticism made by judges and others in the press that imposing a rigid quota system for the number of judges was inappropriate. She pointed out that at the basic level, having a system with fewer than 40% judges was unworkable, given that the Chinese courts at the basic level had to deal with large number of minor offenses. The reason was that China had not yet established separate courts to deal with minor offences [the Supreme Court Observer notes that pilot projects for these courts are underway in some areas]. Another issue is the many responsibilities that Chinese judges have in addition to hearing cases and how a smaller number of judges will be able to hear cases as well as carry out their other responsibilities (research, compiling judicial statistics, promoting the courts).
Why haven’t the current judicial reform documents been made public?
The professors note that they themselves have not seen the judicial reform documents either. They suggest that policies for many issues have not been worked out, but that the uncertainty about the direction and content of the reform policies has a negative effect.
The upcoming plenum
It seems likely that the upcoming fourth plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Central Committee, on rule of law, in October will give us more certainty about the direction and content of the judicial reform policies. In the meantime, the issues and their implications give us all much to think about.