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Judicial reformers weigh their options

2014-03-17 08:53 China Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

New changes should be advanced through pilot programs, experts say

With expectations that the central government will soon issue its long-awaited outline on broad judicial reforms, deputies at the National People's Congress in Beijing are quickly trying to pinpoint what measures to take to implement the plan.

In November, the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China discussed the key areas of judicial reform they wanted to tackle at the Third Plenary Session, including making prosecutors more responsible for their cases, imposing harsher punishments for prosecutors or courts that violate the law and creating a unified system to manage court employees and their properties.

Though Procurator-General Cao Jianming said during a recent discussion at the two sessions that the central government is prepared to publish its expansive judicial reform plan, the question of how to carry out this plan is a cause for concern for NPC deputies.

In the so-called prosecutors' lifelong responsibility system, which holds prosecutors responsible for his or her cases even after retirement, deputies gave numerous suggestions but could not come up with a solution.

"The goal and route of the judicial reform is clear right now, but some methods of developing the work are uncertain," he said.

In a related reform plan to curb corruption in the judicial system, Cao said the Central Committee made clear its desire to improve the fight against corruption and impose heavier punishments on those who violate laws and discipline.

"For example, the nation's new leadership said that local courts and prosecutors below the provincial level should have their personnel and property under a unified management, but this plan is still being studied," Cao said.

He added that the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the nation's top finance officials have joined study sessions about hashing out a unified management system and are making every effort to advance a detailed plan.

In a work report by the Supreme People's Court issued on Monday, Zhou Qiang, the top court's president, said it is preparing to roll out several pilot management programs at the city court level, though some low-level courts across China have already begun their own test programs.

Another key area of reform addressed in November is the judicial jurisdiction system. Currently, city district courts handle cases that fall within its territorial jurisdiction. But with district court governments often influencing court cases, the SPC is looking to abolish the current system and allow cases to be taken by other district courts within a city.

Deputies to the National People's Congress said they were working hard to find specific measures for judicial reform and provide their suggestions.

Xiao Liping, an NPC deputy from Jiangxi province, welcomed the so-called lifelong responsibility system of prosecutors and judges and said it can force the judicial system to pay more attention to cases.

"Judges are like doctors. Their judgments can affect a person's life. If a verdict is verified as wrong, the effect on those convicted is damaging," Xiao said.

Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan spoke highly of the judicial reform developed last year and said it is important to separate local governments from local courts.

But Mu Ping, an NPC deputy and president of Beijing High People's Court, said judicial reform cannot be spread too widely across the nation and that authorities should advance reforms through pilot programs.

"Some judicial reform ideas may cause revisions of current laws, such as establishing trial committees, which will create a conflict in regulations," Mu said.

"As lawmakers continue to research detailed measures, pilot program courts must analyze their own experiences. When both lawmakers and courts with pilot programs are ready, we can revise the laws and extend them across the country," he added.

During the two sessions, the question of how to alleviate the massive workload on lower-level judges was frequently raised.

Deng Hui, an NPC deputy and judicial expert from Jiangxi province, said the amount of work that judges devote to cases is not equivalent to how much they are paid and suggested the government raise their salaries.

"Judges are civil servants, but their jobs are professions. Their social status and incomes should be increased because they handle lots of disputes," he said.

Better benefits will encourage them to stay in their jobs, he added.

2014 Two Sessions

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