Should the retirement age for Chinese judges be raised?

President Zhou Qiang, speaking at a national court conference

The retirement age of Chinese judges, is 55 for women and 60 for men, the age when judges in many other jurisdictions are in their prime. US Supreme Court judges have lifetime appointments, while compulsory retirement ages include:  Germany–68, Australia, 70, Hong Kong, 65 (with provisos).  The discrepancy between China and the rest of the world has not escaped NPC deputies as well some of the more senior members of the Chinese judiciary.  Many of them have been working in the courts since the early 1980’s, and are now facing retirement.

As work begins on a re-draft of the Judges Law (as highlighted in an earlier blogpost), one of the issues that has been repeatedly mentioned in the Chinese legal press is raising the retirement age and/or permitting judges to go on “senior status.” Among those speaking out include President of the Supreme People’s Court, Zhou Qiang, presidents of provincial high court of Hubei, Zhejiang among others, as well as the president of the National Judicial College. The 4th Five Year Judicial Reform Plan mentions raising the age for becoming a judge,but is silent about retirement.

The issue of retirement for judges relates to larger issues, such has separating the treatment of judges from other civil servants, raising the general retirement age for judges, and the type of qualifications that judges should have, and of course compensation.

The president of the National Judicial College published a long article in the People’s Court Newspaper (affiliated with the Supreme People’s Court) in August of this year calling for a re-think of career paths for judges. He noted (among other issues) that many judges are “three gate cadres” (三门干部) who have gone from the gates of home, school, to the courts, and lack the necessary life experience.  (The article seems to be the public version of a talk he gave to a closed door conference on judicial reform sponsored by the China Academy of Social Sciences, reported here).

It is a waste of know-how and experience, particularly for women, who are forced to retire five years before men. The Chinese courts need to try to retain the talent that they have, particularly when the courts will be faced with an increasing number of cases relating to an ageing population. With Zhou Qiang and other senior court leaders backing delayed retirement, it appears the reform will eventually be implemented, but it is likely to be too late for those now close to retirement age.

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