China / Government

Fight stepping up against corruption in courts

By Cao Yin (China Daily) Updated: 2015-03-25 07:46

Improvements are made in supervising justice system, but punishment should not be 'too light', say experts

When Peking University law professor Wang Jiancheng read through the pages of a work report from the country's top court, a set of figures in the anti-corruption section shocked him.

Last year, 2,108 judicial employees, including judges and prosecutors, stood trial over violations related to disciplinary rules and the law, an increase of more than 150 percent year-on-year, according to the Supreme People's Court document.

Of the violators, 1,937 were punished, a 173 percent increase year-on-year, said the report issued during the recent annual session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature.

"It's sad to see that an increasing number of people who are working in the courts are breaking the law instead. But it's heartening to see that the top court is highlighting this in its report," Wang said.

In previous reports from the top court, content about judicial corruption and anti-graft consisted of a few paragraphs. But in the latest report, that was extended to almost three pages.

"This means that the anti-corruption work is being highlighted and efforts against violations in judicial industries have also increased," said Wang, who specializes in judicial procedure.

The Supreme People's Court itself carried out several significant measures to fight and prevent graft last year, including those to improve judicial transparency and the records of criminal cases. These helped explain why such a number of violators was disclosed, he said.

Zhou Qiang, the country's top judge, also promised during the NPC session that authorities would tackle corruption in the judicial system with a "zero tolerance" attitude this year. Violators will have no place to hide, Zhou said.

Wang Lin, an associate professor of law at Hainan University, said that the top court has been eager to identify its own graft problems and has taken the initiative to address them. But disclosing the punishment meted out to violators is also important, Wang said.

"Some judicial officers received disciplinary punishment which, I think, also needs to be transparent and cannot be too light," Wang said. "Otherwise, the corruption in the judicial system won't be rooted out."

Of the 1,937 violators, 863 took advantage of their power to break the law and breach discipline last year, the report said. The figure was 482 more than that in 2013, it said.

In 2012, the number of judicial employees who were exposed for allegedly abusing their power was 207. That figure was a sharp increase from 2013, when Zhou was appointed the president of the top court and set about tackling graft in the judiciary.

Removed from office

Liaoning was considered to be a province hit hard by judicial graft cases last year, when 62 officers of the judiciary were exposed for alleged corruption.

In July, Li Wei, president of Dalian Intermediate People's Court in the province, was reportedly being investigated for serious disciplinary violations.

A month later, 10 other judicial officers of the court in Qingyuan Manchu autonomous county in the province's Fushun, including three deputy presidents, were questioned and investigated for allegedly taking bribes, perverting the law, abusing power and rendering illegal verdicts. In January, Li was removed from the Party and his office.

The investigations have brought relief to local resident Wang Yanshu. She told China Daily that her frequent reports had finally reaped results.

"Li had interfered with my dispute with a property developer, and the judgment the court gave was ridiculous, as it was not written in legal language and had no legal basis," said Wang, who first reported her concerns about Li in 2006.

She said that she was outraged when Li revealed her case to the local media before the judgment was announced. "Even a layman knew that was illegal, to say nothing of a judge," she said.

The court has a day set aside to hear the concerns of litigants. But Wang said that had existed in name only, "as I never saw Li appear on the day, let alone receive our reports".

In May, when a disciplinary inspection group under the central government came to Dalian, she submitted her materials about Li.

"I went to court to seek justice. Violations by judges, in my view, are more serious than by other officials," she said.

Wang Lin from Hainan University said that the courts are the stage in the justice system for which judicial corruption is most damaging.

He approved of the top court's determination to fight corruption, but added: "Alleviating the problem will also depend on the courts' initiative to carry out self-inspections."

Raising awareness

As part of the fight against graft in the judiciary, Chinese courts held 2,696 discussions with employees who were considered to be in danger of going astray and reviewed problematic officers via 3,929 questionnaires last year, according to the top court.

Typical violators and cases were also circulated to each court regularly to raise awareness of the dangers of flouting the rules, it said.

"It's sensible to reveal the violations in a timely manner, as judicial transparency is effective to keep the team cleaner and prevent it from making mistakes," said Wang from Peking University.

Every judicial procedure and verdict has been put online. Litigants can trace the stages of their case and inspect via their smartphones or courts' websites whether judges make their judgments carefully, Wang said.

"Disclosure is the best way to restrict power. Restriction or prevention will be helpful in reducing the breeding ground for corruption," he said.

Since Zhou was named the top judge, all evidence and opinions about cases have been required to be made public in trials, which have helped prevent some judges from abusing their power to solve disputes privately to a large extent, he said.

"Judicial transparency is not only for residents to understand what courts do every day. The more important thing is to reduce and avoid the possibility for corruption as much as possible," he said.

Zhang Xuequn, president of the Yunnan High People's Court, agreed.

"We have the power to help residents solve disputes and hear cases. As judges, we must first respect the law and fight corruption via effective ways," Zhang said.

The Supreme People's Court also allocated 911 officers to courts in 21 provinces to be disciplinary inspectors, and carried out its own inspections in six high people's courts.

At the same time, the top court received 25,330 reports about judicial graft via its network and big data and has carried out inspections for 125 of them because of their urgency and importance.

Wang from Hainan University approved the moves, but he suggested that punishments for the violators should be transparent and the inspections in courts should be extended to prosecuting bodies.

'The best way'

According to the top court's report, of the 863 violators who abused power involving case hearing and law enforcement, only 138 finally stood trial, "or in other words, most of them received disciplinary punishments, such as removal from the Party or work post," he said.

While it is encouraging to see how those who break laws and discipline are being exposed, the disclosure is far from enough for those who end up with only disciplinary punishment, he said.

"Openness is the best way to address questions from the public over such cases, so it is necessary to expose the violators regularly," he said.

The penalties should also not be too light or it will fail to serve as a warning to others, he said.

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