China / Government

Rule of law should leave no room for legal loopholes

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-10-28 19:58

BEIJING -- The blueprints set at the recently concluded Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee are perhaps the most encouraging political progress in China in the past month.

With the meeting centering around rule of law, key legal reforms and a bigger role for the Constitution, some analysts are already hailing this the era of "rule of law 2.0".

But they would be amiss to say the current laws in China are already sufficient. Improvement of existing laws and regulations is still a necessity for the world's second largest economy.

China announced in 2010 that the basic "socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics" was established. Earlier reports said China now has over 240 laws covering almost every aspect of political and social life.

While that is worth celebrating, a large number of the current laws were conceptualized years - if not decades - ago and have not kept up with the changing realities. This is not even factoring in clauses that are far from being precise enough.

Take penalties for Chinese officials who commit the crime of embezzlement as an example.

According to the current criminal code, officials who embezzle 100,000 yuan or more face imprisonment of 10 year to life, in addition to possible confiscation of property. Under serious circumstances, they could be sentenced to death. But the vagueness of terms such as "10 years and above" allows a lot of room for loopholes.

"A corrupt official who took 100,000 yuan might be sentenced to death, while another who embezzled millions of yuan could only be jailed for 15 years," a Chinese procuratorate told Xinhua in an anonymous interview ahead of last week's CPC Central Committee plenary session.

Another challenge for rule of law is how to deal with crimes that do not have a legal outline.

One prominent example is sexual assault against men, which is not included in the country's criminal code as an offense.

But that does not mean such cases are scarce.

In 2010, a 42-year-old security guard sexually abused an 18-year-old man in their dormitory. Instead of being changed with sexual assault, the offender was convicted on the lesser charge of intentional injury and sentenced to 12 months in prison, Beijing Legal Evening News reported.

A China National Radio report on Monday also cited a recent case in Luzhou of Sichuan Province, where a man surnamed Wang was robbed and molested by another man, who was later arrested by local police but was not charged for sexual assault.

Hopefully, Chinese lawmakers are already contemplating a change for such cases.

A draft amendment to Criminal Law, submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) for a first reading this week is pushing for male victimization in molestation cases.

If passed by China's top legislature, those who act indecently against others - including men - or assault a woman with violence, coercion or any other forcible means can face prison sentences up to five years or more.

Both examples testify to the fact that laws are not static. Having a "socialist system of laws" in place is by no means the whole story.

As China continues to embrace rule of law, it is important to note that all laws call for constant development and revision. Any discussion of rule of law should be put in this context.

To usher in the rule of law 2.0, China needs not only public legal awareness and law-abiding government, but also better laws.

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