Judges learn legal systems overseas

By Liu Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-22 07:40

As China's economy continues to grow and globalize, the legal community has come to realize that the country's body of laws needs updating and globalizing, as well. In some situations, China didn't have a law; in others, it wasn't current.

So, the country began sending judges and prosecutors overseas for legal training along with lawmakers to bring legislation and law enforcement up to international standards.

Shen Xiaojie, a district-level prosecutor in his 20s from Shenyang, Liaoning Province in Northeast China, was one of them.

After studying for 15 months in a programme offered jointly by Temple and Tsinghua universities, he received a Master of Law (LL.M.) degree from Temple in October.

Shen and his classmates studied on Temple's main campus, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for two months. During the 13 remaining months, they went to Tsinghua in Beijing, where teachers from Temple's Beasley School of Law instructed them.

"A scholar once said that in the legal field, globalization is Americanization to a large extent, so we have to learn from the United States," Shen said, referring to both knowledge and the way of thinking.

For example, courts in some regions in China began to experiment with plea bargaining between the prosecutor and criminal defendant a procedure learnt from the Anglo-American legal system, Shen said.

"Through systematic study, I know how plea bargaining is conducted in the United States and how the system balances the interests of various parties," he said.

What he learnt in the United States and from his American teachers will help him deal with some future reform measures, Shen said, but principles related to China's legal code will not be changed solely through judicial reform.

"Learning from overseas will help China grow stronger," Shen said.

Shen and the other judges and prosecutors, who accounted for half of the student total, did not pay the US$18,000 tuition. That was paid through donations, according to Adelaide Ferguson, Temple's assistant vice-president for international programmes.

Yuan Duoran, a civil and commercial judge from the Supreme People's Court who participated in Temple's programme in 2000, said he learnt things from the programme that he uses in his work now. "China's civil and commercial law system and practices gained much from the US in the field of Securities Law, Corporation Law and Trust Law," he said.

In fact, in the continental legal system, which China has traditionally followed, there is no trust law, Yuan said: "So China's legislation governing the issue was adapted from Anglo-American countries, mainly Britain and the United States."

Another benefit: Yuan said his spoken and written English, which he used to search for information, was enhanced considerably.

Wang Chenguang, dean of the Tsinghua University Law School, said sending judges and prosecutors to receive legal education in the United States was significant.

"With the deepening of China's reform and opening-up, Sino-foreign economic collaboration is evident, and legal relations should be strengthened, as well," he said, as foreign investors and businessmen in China need legal guarantees.

Some of China's practices are not up to international standards, he said. Judges, prosecutors and lawyers need to know more about foreign legal systems, especially in the area of economic law, such as trade rules and World Trade Organization rules.

"We must train professionals so that they know both China's law and foreign systems," Wang said.

But that doesn't mean that China needs to imitate the Western legal system, Wang said.

"Although it needs to be reformed, China's judicial system basically suits the country's condition," he said.

Wang stressed that as China's society is quite different from that of Western countries, the Chinese judicial system cannot be expected to match theirs.

For example, some Chinese judges have adopted mediation more than their foreign counterparts, instead of merely making judgements.

Even so, Wang stressed the necessity for Sino-foreign co-operation.

"The influence of globalization goes far beyond the economic field," Wang said, noting that, for example, co-operation between China and other countries on extraditing Chinese fugitive officials charged with corruption is strengthening.

"We learnt the principles of presumption of innocence in the criminal code and human rights guarantees in the Constitution from successful experiences overseas," he said.

(China Daily 12/22/2006 page1)

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