Supreme People’s Court’s prescription for the disease of judicial corruption

Basic level judges and flying money

Basic level judges and flying money

In a build up to the National Day holiday (and since), the Supreme People’s Court (the Court) has focused some of its attention on combating the disease of judicial corruption.  The prescription is in the form of three types of Communist Party documents. This blogpost highlights the prescription and speculates on the timing.

The herbs in this traditional prescription comes in the form of:

  •  Six model (typical) cases of violations of the Communist Party’s Eight Point Regulations by court officials ( “cadres and police”/干警)).  (An earlier blogpost analyzed seven earlier model cases that the Court issued.  The six (relatively minor) cases included:
    • a Guizhou county court spending over 500,000 RMB on a trip to Hainan at public expense, lavish banqueting, and abuse of bonuses;
    • leadership of a Shaoguan (Guangdong) court, that caused the death of their dinner guest, an official of a county court, from alcohol poisoning;
    • vice president of a Hunan county court, who used a court vehicle to take his daughter to school;
    • the head of the disciplinary department of a Hancheng (Shaanxi) court caught by a reporter playing video games during work hours;
  • Holiday rules on what not to do during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holidays.  The Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (at various levels) issued notices distributed to the courts forbidding officials “gifting” moon cakes, shopping vouchers, “red packets”, and touring at public expense,
  • A document, linked here, providing policy guidance to the disciplinary departments of the courts in rooting corruption out of the courts. The head of these departments is Zhang Jiannan, who is the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s  (CCDI’s) chief representative in the Supreme People’s Court, and directs the disciplinary departments of the lower courts. The document is again focused on anti-corruption efforts within the courts.  It directs the disciplinary departments to focus on discipline, report to the local Party disciplinary authorities as well as the disciplinary department of the higher courts, participate in major court internal meetings,  improve the operation of disciplinary inspectors (described below). It directs disciplinary officials to participate in important meetings, drafting of important documents, and clear personnel appointments. The disciplinary officials are directed to implement the Party Constitution as well as 2008 regulations on supervision work in the courts.

Some background

The background for these documents is the Communist Party’s Central Committee’s five year anti-corruption plan (analyzed here).  Following that:

  • the Court’s Party Committee  issued a June, 2014 document on Party discipline:
  • the Court dispatched teams of its own disciplinary inspectors(最高人民法院司法巡查组) to Henan, Ningxia, Fujian and Anhui in May and September.  These disciplinary inspectors are the Court’s counterpart to  the CCDI’s  inspection teams, which at the central level called Central Inspection Groups (中央巡视组) (“CIG”).  These CIGs  uncover corruption and other abuses, under which semi-retired high ranking officials are dispatched to provinces, ministries and SOEs for disciplinary inspection. The political background for these inspection teams is analyzed in this article. These inspection teams have operated in the courts for a number of years and operate according to these rules.
  • The Communist Party Central Committee’s Political Legal Committee issued three batches of “typical cases” of violations of law and Party discipline among the “political legal departments,” (each linked here) which included a substantial number of judges, including Liu Yong of the Supreme People’s Court, removed for suspicion of having taken about 2 million yuan in bribes (about $330,000).

 The timing

The timing for the release of these recent documents appears to be linked to the upcoming Fourth Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, on the rule of law. Part of the agenda, according to reports, is the role of the judiciary, curbing corruption and announcing forthcoming judicial reforms.

A traditional prescription

This prescription for curing the courts of corruption uses the traditional cure of Party discipline rather than judicial ethical models more commonly used in other jurisdictions. The Chinese judiciary has looked at approaches to judicial ethics in other jurisdictions, including Germany, the US, and Hong Kong.  Elements of this prescription, such as having disciplinary officials participate in important meetings and the drafting of important documents appear to be inconsistent with some of the goals in the judicial reform plan of having the judges who heard cases decide them.

Will the prescription be effective?

The current prescription is a variation of what has been prescribed before.  The Court needs to show the political leadership that it is it doing what it can to combat corruption in the courts and is implementing anti-corruption initiatives.  The anti-corruption drive is being led by the CCDI, using Party channels and methods.

Corruption prevents or at least complicates efforts to establish and operate a court system that meets the needs of ordinary people. It appears that the Court leadership is under no illusions about what goes on in the court system.  However, the Court leadership can only work within the current system and with current personnel.  Will the broader anti-corruption campaign lead to a change in China’s social and business culture, of which the judiciary is a part?  Or do these latest initiatives not go to the core of the problem?  换汤不换药?

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