Why are Chinese prosecutors resigning?

Chinese prosecutors (procurators, this blogpost will use the terms interchangeably, although the functions of the procuratorate are broader than public prosecution) do not receive the international attention that Chinese judges attract. There is no Supreme People’s Procuratorate Monitor to review its reforms, structural and legal issues.

Chinese prosecutors, like judges, are leaving the procuratorate in significant numbers, although recent statistics do not appear to be easily available,According to statistics for 2011-2013, over 6000 prosecutors were resigning annually. Li Bin, a former senior prosecutor who in 2016 worked for the legal media company Itslaw (无讼),(she has since changed companies), published the results of her survey of over 4000 members of her cohort this spring.  The study gives important insights.

Who is leaving?

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Prosecutors resigning, by sex

The two surveys that she did revealed that men were resigning in greater numbers than women, with 70%/30% ratio in the survey done this (2016) spring. This may explain why many of the criminal cases streamed by the courts have an all women team of prosecutors.

Age and education

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Age of resigning prosecutors

Like the judges who are resigning, most are in the 31-40 age bracket, with 45% between the ages of 31-35 and 36% between the ages of 36-40.  About 10% are under 30, 6% between 41-45, and no one over 46 responded to the survey. 59f43639-99a0-47ad-b1d9-a9961f257d37-1

Most (80%) resigning prosecutors have at least 5 years experience, with about 40% with over 10 years experience, and 1/3 with 6-9 years experience.

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Educational background

Most prosecutors who resigned had at least a master’s degree.

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Almost half (45%) the resigning prosecutors had worked at the basic level, with another 20% leaving provincial level procuratorates, and another 20+% leaving municipal level procuratorates.

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Most (70%) had done public prosecution, with about 20% having worked in investigation.

Most (67%) of those who responded had resigned within the past  year, with the remainder having resigned within the past three  years.

Destination

Over 40% of those prosecutors who reisgned became lawyers, while 44% became in-house counsel.  Very few went into teaching or other non-profit professions.

Reasons for leaving

Three-quarters of the resigning prosecutors identified poor benefits (and other treatment) as their reason for leaving. Other  reasons identified by over half the respondents included: insufficient opportunity for promotion, no feeling of accomplishment in their work; overly bureaucratic management, insufficient professional respect, inability to travel abroad.  [One local prosecutor has commented that  junior prosecutors (in his locality, at least) are to travel, although the high ranking ones are more restricted.] Other reasons such as too much work pressure or risk were identified by less than 30%.  Others mentioned chaotic management, lack of opportunity to learn anything.

Procuracy reforms

Prosecutors who had resigned were generally pessimistic about judicial (i.e. including the procuracy) reforms.About half said “it was hard to say anything about the future of the reforms,” while about 1/3 thought that there was no hope, with about 19% having some hope.

Almost 90% of resigning prosecutors thought that raising the salary was the most urgent need, with three-quarters believing that it needed to be doubled or tripled to retain prosecutors, with 70% agreeing that the administrative burden should be reduced, almost 60% agreeing that bureaucratic management should be reduced, and 47% agreeing that prosecutors should have more autonomy concerning their cases.

Social media

Finally, the reasons for resigning identified by the editor of Empire Lawyers (mentioned in my earlier blogpost on judges) likely apply to prosecutors. Social media, particularly Wechat,is likely important to prosecutors too, for the same reasons.  It has given them a new universe of social connections outside the procuratorate. It also gives them easy access to information about the life of former prosecutors similar to themselves. Moreover, through Wechat they can create a circle of friends and connections who can provide moral support when they have made the decision to resign.

Money is a big factor, particularly in major cities with high costs of living. The fact remains that middle-class life in China’s major cities, particularly for couples with a child, is expensive and salaries, tied to civil service rank, are inadequate.

At least judging from this survey, prosecutors are concerned that the judicial reforms will not result in a better quality of work for them personally.

As with judges, there is also the rigidity of the Party/state cadre management system. While law firm partner classmates are posting photos of themselves at Yosemite or in the Grand Tetons on Wechat, prosecutors must obtain permission to leave the country.

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