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Hopeful steps in China's legal reform

2015-01-24 11:16 Xinhua Web Editor: Si Huan

When it comes to what is needed to advance the rule of law in China, two measures introduced by China's judicial organs are key.

One is the abolishment of arrest and conviction targets for police, prosecutors and courts. The other is an accountability mechanism to limit officials' interference in judicial proceedings.

China has long used performance targets to evaluate the work of officials, and legal affairs are no exception. The careers of police officers, prosecutors and judges are often decided by the number of arrests, detentions, prosecutions and convictions they make.

For instance, judges are measured against appeal rates, case closure rates, and case withdrawal rates. Many local courts have delayed investigation and prosecution of cases until after November in order to ensure good year-end job performance.

Conviction rates at some procuratorates have reached an astounding 100 percent, leading legal experts to conclude that target-driven judicial work either leads to indulging criminals or miscarriage of justice.

Under such circumstances, many prosecutors and judges handle cases less on the basis of facts and evidence than on the external pressures that weigh on them, undermining justice.

In one ruling that was reversed, a young man named Huugjilt, who was found guilty of rape and murder and executed in 1996, was finally declared innocent last December by a higher court in Inner Mongolia.

The results were hard-won for Huugjilt's family. In 2005, a suspect confessed to the rape and murder, but local police and courts were reluctant to reverse the verdict for fear of punishment and demotion.

By the time local authorities finished their review of the case and re-launched the investigation in 2006, ten years had passed since Huugjilt was executed and tarnished with the label "murderer." He was only declared not guilty in late 2014.

Another important measure is limiting officials' interference with legal proceedings. Meng Jianzhu, head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC Central Committee, said that records should be kept of officials who meddle in legal cases, so their actions can be traced back to them if there are consequences.

These measures could help law enforcement and legal professionals play their role in advancing rule of law.

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