BEIJING - Judges who have a spouse or offspring working as a lawyer in the same judicial area as theirs must declare a conflict of interest and one of them must get out of town under a new regulation issued by the top court.
The regulation on "recusal" - the technical word for such judicial conflicts of interest - took effect on Feb 10.
The rules are aimed at ensuring there is an appropriate distance between judges and lawyers and note that "in certain cases, lawyers and judges from the same families take advantage of their personal relations to make illegal profits", the Supreme People's Court (SPC) said in a statement released late on Wednesday.
The regulation requires judges who now have family members working as lawyers in the same judicial area as theirs to apply for relocation within six months of the new regulation taking effect. The courts where such judges are working should then transfer them to other posts within 12 months.
If judges encounter such recusal conditions in the future, they must apply for removal within one month and their employers must transfer them within six months.
Those who should apply for removal but fail to do so by the deadline must be actively removed within six months, according to the regulation.
Judicial officials who try to conceal the fact that their spouse or child is working as a lawyer or those who take steps to avoid being removed, as well as those who refuse to be removed, will receive "education" or disciplinary punishments, the regulation stipulates.
The top court said the new regulation is in response to public concern and doubts about judicial credibility and sets out to erect a "segregation wall" between the two key parties in lawsuits - the judges and lawyers.
"While judges having family members who are lawyers does not necessarily lead to corruption, it usually triggers public doubts, especially when the public is having increasing concerns about the credibility of our judicial system," the top court statement quoted SPC President Wang Shengjun as saying.
"To establish such a mechanism nationwide is very important to curb possible corruption within the court system," he said.
Before the implementation of the regulation, some local courts had already experimented with similar ideas.
Statistics from the Shanghai Higher People's Court show that when Shanghai courts brought in a recusal system in 2009, 143 court officials, including 94 judges, needed to be relocated. By September 2010, in all cases, "one side of the family had stepped out of their jobs".
In Southwest China's Chongqing municipality, 11 judges followed the recusal rule by October 2010. Among them, six judges left their posts while family members moved on in another five cases.
Lawyers said the new regulations will be effective in curbing corruption and could have been even harsher.
"This new regulation to some extent is strict and clearly targeted. It will be effective in avoiding family ties playing an unfair role in cases," said Chen Wei, a lawyer with the Beijing-based Yingke Law Firm.
Chen said the regulation could be improved by being widened because there are many other connections that lead to judicial corruption.
"Besides, the regulation doesn't say enough about enforcement. A disciplinary warning is too lenient a punishment for those who do not follow the rules," she said.
(China Daily 02/18/2011 page4)