China's jury system is making progress but reforms are still needed, senior court officials said Monday in Beijing.
"It is a system designed to complement professional judges and improve judgments by the court," said Chief Justice Xiao Yang at a conference on jury system reform.
Reform is important because it "conforms to the democratic nature of the judiciary as well as the need to maximize justice," he said.
Currently, 55,681 jurors across the country are participating in criminal and civil cases at county- or district-level courts.
From May 2005 until June this year, jurors have participated in 644,723 trials.
"More than 80 percent of the cases resulted in a successful conclusion to the first trial, contributing to social stability and harmony," Xiao said.
Though established in 1954, the National People's Congress brought the jury system into law in August 2004 and it took effect in May 2005.
When a jury is called up, the court will select from a pool of qualified candidates on a random basis. Jurors should make up at least one-third of the collegial bench.
"Each juror will decide on both factual and legal issues, independently," Cao Jianming, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, said.
A juror can request that a court president hands a case on to the judicial council for reconsideration if he or she disagrees with the collegial bench's ruling.
"It is superior to the jury system in some Western countries in such areas," Cao said.
Zhao Weizhong, a juror from the Xincheng district in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province, has sat on more than 380 criminal and civil cases since 1996.
"Through participating in judicial trials, I feel obliged to share my knowledge with people around me and help them improve their legal awareness."
Not everyone, however, has a positive view of the legal reforms that are underway.
"Obviously the aim is to guarantee jurors have equal rights with judges, but in some ways it has gone too far," said Chen Weixing, a professor at the law institute of Renmin University of China.