China amends law to make life easier for lawyers

Updated: 2007-10-28 22:12

BEIJING -- China's top legislature on Sunday adopted a draft amendment to the Law on Lawyers which will make it easier for lawyers to meet criminal suspects and obtain evidence.

The draft amendment to the Law on Lawyers was approved after being put to the vote at the end of the five-day session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) after the third reading.

Chinese attorneys have long complained of difficulties in meeting criminal suspects and having access to files and evidence when defending criminal cases.

The amendment says lawyers, provided they have the requisite papers such as their legal practitioner certificate, are entitled to meet criminal suspects or defendants in person once judicial organs have finished their initial interrogation or taken mandatory measures.

Defense attorneys and criminal suspects will not be monitored when they have a conversation, the amendment said, and defense lawyers are entitled to look up all files and materials relating to the case.

Defense lawyers are entitled to apply to prosecuting organs and people's courts to collect and provide relevant evidence, and use courts to get witnesses to testify in court.

Lawyers, with requisite papers, may collect evidence themselves from relevant organizations or individuals, the amendment says.

To protect lawyers, the draft amendment specifies that opinions and remarks made by defense lawyers in court - provided they do not threaten national security or slander others - cannot lead to prosecution.

Judicial organs that decide to detain or arrest a lawyer suspected of involvement in a crime related to a case during the proceedings, must inform the lawyer's family relatives and his or her law firm, as well as the lawyer association within 24 hours, the amendment says.

The amendment also allows lawyers who have been practicing for five years - provided they didn't have their licence suspended over the past three years - to establish individual law firms.

China now has more than 130,000 lawyers working in 13,000 law firms. In 2006 alone, Chinese lawyers dealt with more than 1.8 million litigation cases and 1.15 million non-litigation cases and provided legal aid in more than 5.2 million cases, according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice.

The Law on Lawyers was implemented on January 1, 1997. It is the first revision to the law since its promulgation.

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