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Judicial reform promotes rule of law

By Edward Lehman | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-12-07 07:25
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China's recent efforts to reform the legal and judicial system, in order to promote more effective rule of law reflect its longstanding commitment to pursue modernization and foster a rules-based society. All this is embodied in the resolution the recent Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued.

For those of us working directly with legal practitioners on the ground in China for the past three decades, we have witnessed this evolution and advancement first hand. Professionalizing the judiciary not only makes courts more trustworthy and respectable in the eyes of the people, but also enhances its capability to resolve disputes, and thus contributes to a more vibrant, prosperous community.

The upgrading of the legal regime also reflects the realities of a sophisticated market economy, catalyzing the communal accumulation of shared wealth. The growth of the market and the massive increase in consumer transactions which take place as society advances mean a potential increase in commercial disputes, and highlight the necessity of having a strong rule of law apparatus in place. As China has become an increasingly important commercial and trading country over the past few decades, a more professional judicial system will help it to undergird stable, robust economic relations with other global powers.

In this manner, China's economic growth combined with the advancement of the rule of law can help contribute to the stability of the global financial system. Which becomes all the more important in these times of a deeply interconnected world still recovering from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet since China was the first major economy to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, the momentum could add to its economic stability.

The commitment to foster a society ruled by law has manifested itself in concrete actions taken on the ground. Specifically, recent Chinese policy initiatives have ensured that a judge hearing a case will be responsible for its outcome too, which in fact is incentivizing superior quality trial management. And the judge quota protocols ensure that only the most qualified individuals occupy the prestigious post of a judge.

Besides, the implementation of a Civil Code on Jan 1 this year, the first since the founding of the People's Republic, is a major step toward compiling a single codified source of civil law that will simplify both research and understanding.

Also, the funding of judicial bodies has largely been moved to the provincial level and above, eliminating the possibility of corrupt local officials interfering with the fair and proper adjudication of disputes.

In certain technological and functional areas, China has outpaced many Western countries in pioneering courts to deal with diverse issues, even paving the way for blockchain technology to be used to help authenticate evidence that will be used at a trial.

As for the pandemic, it has accelerated the shift toward digitalization, resulting in a far greater degree of procedural steps being handled online and bringing convenience to litigants, who don't necessarily have to travel long distances to be physically present in a court for their case. On issues such as intellectual property and data protection-which are crucial in a digitalized economy-China has implemented legislation that will ensure all parties' rights are protected and concerns addressed.

China has in recent years further expanded the realm of legal education, including starting a Constitution week and leading initiatives that allow people to learn more about how legal bodies function. These measures will help foster stability, allowing the intellectual property space to continue to rapidly expand.

In certain other domains, China has been able to learn from the experience and systems of other countries and, in some cases, applying them to its own unique context, creating a rule of law with Chinese characteristics. This approach can help to mitigate the chances of laws becoming stagnant or too formulaic to handle real problems, and maintain the focus on practicality and substance over form.

Many public opinion surveys have shown that these undertakings have resulted in growing trust in the competence of the judiciary, and more people becoming familiar with the process of trials and the reasoning used in court verdicts, which is very important because it plays a vital role in losing parties retaining their faith in the judicial system.

The importance of the rule of law cannot be overstated, as it is a fundamental feature of any well-functioning society. Therefore, China's commitment to promote the rule of law should be reassuring not only for the Chinese people, but also for the world as a whole.

The author is co-founder of Lehman, Lee & Xu, a law firm in China, general counsel to AmChamUS, first legal counsel to the American Chamber of Commerce Shanghai, and chairman of Lehman-Bush, a private investment bank, and a professor of law.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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