How many women judges does the Supreme People’s Court have?

Screenshot 2019-04-16 at 10.12.57 PM.pngAs I described in a detailed blogpost last December (2018), the SPC intends to increase judicial transparency. However, that does not yet extend to the gender ratio of judges at the SPC.  In a recent academic article, I discussed transparency concerning information on the number of judges in a court, including the SPC (excerpted below).

The SPC has been relatively late in expanding transparency concerning its own judges for reasons explored below. Information concerning the number of judges on the SPC was not readily available until July, 2017, when reports on the implementation of the quota judge system in the Supreme People’s Court revealed that there had been 642 judges,with 367 judges designated as quota [员额制] judges. The SPC does not list the number of contract staff or other support staff on its website. When the circuit courts were established, the SPC began to publish basic information concerning all judges. Some commentators suggest that the sensitivity concerning releasing data about the number of SPC judges may relate in part to the connection with the death penalty, because releasing this information would give an indication of the number of judges engaged in death penalty reviews and possibly to the number of annual executions. Another concern that has been mooted was that minimising the transparency of information related to SPC judges would reduce media focus on the resignation of judges from the SPC.
As to the number of judges in lower courts, that appears to be increasingly transparent, as many courts begin to list the number of personnel on their staff. For example, the website of one of the Shenzhen district courts states: ‘The court has a total of 629 people on staff, among which 391 are permanent staff (including 282 political-legal staff, 109 ordinary staff); contract staff 238, 160 judges; 51 judges with graduate training, 104 university graduates;
98.1% of the judges are university graduates or above’. Corresponding information is not yet available on the SPC website.

As I discussed in an earlier blogpost, not all of the professional staff at the SPC is permanently employed by the SPC,  as the SPC compensates for headcount limits imposed by the Central Staffing Commission (another institution that awaits clear exposition in English) by borrowing staff from the lower courts.  Lower courts compensate for headcount limits by hiring contract support staff.  (I look forward to someone setting out in clear language (Chinese or English) the way in which Chinese courts are funded in the new era).

It could be that transparency concerning the number and identities
of judges is linked to transparency developments by the Central Staffing Commission [中央机构编制委员会办公室], a Party-State organisation that regulates staffing in Party and state entities. As suggested below, the entire regulatory structure concerning court staffing, and the control of staffing of political legal
institutions does not itself appear to be very transparent.
….In 2015, the Central Staffing Commission issued a document on
reforming the treatment of political-legal staff, including judges, but the
document itself has not been made public.

So in March (connected with a presentation I gave in Beijing at Peking University’s Yenching Academy’s conference on the role of women in China), I did an informal survey.  As you can see from the judges listed among SPC leaders, only Justice Tao Kaiyuan (pictured above) is a woman. Screenshot 2019-05-07 at 8.44.23 PM.png

There have previously been other women SPC vice presidents, including Justice He Rong, now head of the Supervision Commission and deputy Party Secretary of Shanxi Province (apparently she has been transferred to that role on the principle of cadre rotation)Justice Huang Ermei has retired.

Some of the many reasons that the SPC has so few women in senior leadership positions is that in the first years that Chinese law schools accepted students, relatively few women studied law.  Moreover, women in China face an earlier retirement age. And then there is the issue of having the correct portfolio of leadership skills for the system.

Based on my unofficial research, the civil divisions appear to be at least 50:50.  The #4 Civil Division has a woman as head of the division (Judge Wang Shumei), who has replaced Judge Zhang Yongjian (apparently he will be retiring), with Judge Gao Xiaoli (also a woman, and featured in these blogposts) remaining as deputy head of the division.  It appears that the SPC has an increasing number of women in deputy division head roles (apart from women academics, such as Wang Xiumei,who are working at the SPC under the guazhi program. Scholars working at the SPC under that program are designated as deputy division heads). It is understood that the trial supervision division has more women, while the administrative division has more men.  The five criminal divisions are said to have more men than women.  The enforcement bureau is said to have more men than women.

One informed person suggested that at least some of the reasons relate to the need to travel when working in the criminal divisions, and women having to fulfill traditional gender roles in taking care of children and the elderly.  A more scholarly analysis of this issue is found here, for those with the tools to access academic articles behind paywalls.

As to future trends, most Chinese law schools have more women than men students, with some lower courts trending to 50:50 men/women judges. Recruiting judges from current judicial assistants likely to mean the gender balance moves increasingly towards more women, particularly as all studies I have seen, including one done in 2018, involving judges resigning indicate many more men leaving the judiciary than women.  At the lower level there is an increasing number of women court presidents. Professor Sida Liu of the University of Toronto and two collaborators published the academic study on the feminization of the Chinese judiciary cited above and summarized here.

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