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China issues white paper on judicial reform of Chinese courts

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-02-27 14:29

I. China's Court System and Reform Process

Institutional Basis of Court Reform in China

The Constitution of the People's Republic of China provides that the people's courts are judicial organs of the State. The State sets up Supreme People's Court, local people's courts at different levels and special people's courts such as military courts. These people's courts adjudicate civil, criminal and administrative suits in accordance with laws, and carry out judicial activities including the execution of civil and administrative decisions and state compensation.

The Supreme People's Court, as the highest judicial organ of the People's Republic of China, is responsible for adjudicating various cases that have material effects nationwide or are subject to its adjudication according to law, formulating judicial interpretations, supervising and guiding the judicial work of local people's courts at different levels and special people's courts, and managing certain judicial administration work of the courts nationwide within the scope of its functions and powers as per laws.

Local people's courts at different levels include primary people's courts, intermediate people's courts and higher people's courts. Special people's courts include military courts, maritime courts, IP courts, etc.

A people's court at a higher level supervises the judicial work of the people's courts at the next lower level. In litigious activities, the people's courts adopt the systems of public trial, collegiate panel, challenge, people's assessors, defense, and judgment of the second instance as final, etc.

Basic Process of Court Reform in China

Since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policy, along with all-round economic and social development, continuous advancement of democracy and rule by law, and the public's ever-increasing demands for and expectations of judicature, the original judicial system was unable to meet the need of new situations. As early as in the 1990s, China's courts started the reforms focusing on enhancing the function of court trials, expanding the openness of trials and improving judicial professionalization. Since the 15th National Congress of the Communist Party of China ("CPC"), the Supreme People's Court has initiated a series of reforms in the areas of organization and system of courts, judge system, litigation procedure, method of trial, enforcement system, judicial management, etc., and promulgated three "Five-year Reform Program for People's Courts" in 1999, 2005 and 2009 respectively. The said three Programs served as the basis of China's court reform before 2013.

The Decision of the Central Committee of the CPC ("CCCPC") on Some Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening the Reform adopted at the 3rd Plenary Session of the 18th CCCPC set an important task of advancing rule by law in China and deepening the reform of the judicial system. The Decision of the CCCPC on Some Major Issues Concerning Management of State Affairs under the Rule of Law in an All-round Way adopted at the 4th Plenary Session of the 18th CCCPC set the establishment of a socialist system of rule by law with Chinese characteristics and the building of a socialist country under the rule of law as the general objective of advancing management of state affairs under the rule of law in an all-round way, and put forward a series of major reform measures in scientific legislation, strict law enforcement, judicial impartiality, universal law abiding and other areas. The judicial reform has become an important component of the program of comprehensively deepening the reform in China and has been included in the overall development strategy of the State.

In order to further deepening the reform of people's courts, the Supreme People's Court promulgated the Opinions on Comprehensively Deepening the Reform of People's Courts on February 4, 2015, putting forward 65 reform measures, which was served as the Fourth Five-year Reform Program for People's Courts 2014-2018. As of the end of 2016, 63 reform tasks had been basically accomplished or carried out in an all-round way.

Organization and Implementation of the Court Reform in China

In early 2014, China set up the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform headed by President Xi Jinping, which is responsible for the overall design, arrangement, coordination, promotion and implementation of the reform. The Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform held 31 plenary meetings between January 21 and December 31, 2016, 23 of which discussed the issues relating to the judicial reform, considered and passed 38 documents relating to the judicial reform, thereby fundamentally forming the Central Government's top-down design and basic frame of comprehensively deepening the reform of the judicial system.

The Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform sets up six special sub-groups, which are responsible for considering important issues relating to reforms in the relevant areas, coordinating and advancing the formulation and implementation of special reform policies and measures. The Leading Group for Reform of the Social System (also called "Central Leading Group for Reform of the Judicial System) is responsible for deepening the reform of the judicial system.

The reform of the judicial system covers a wide range of issues and has high policy sensitivity. In consideration that the improvement of classified management of judicial personnel, improvement of judicial accountability, improvement of job security of judicial personnel and promotion of centralized management of personnel, financial and material resources of local courts below the provincial level are basic measures of the reform of the judicial system, according to the principle that major reforms shall be first conducted on a pilot basis, China launched pilot reforms in respect of the aforesaid four issues in some provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government in three batches, to accumulate experience for advancing the reform in an all-round way. Since July 2016, these four major reforms have been implemented nationwide in an all-round way.

The Supreme People's Court set up a leading group for judicial reform headed by Chief Judge Zhou Qiang, which is responsible for organizing, leading, making overall arrangements for and coordinating the judicial reform at courts, holding plenary and special meetings, overall planning of key issues of reform, considering reform proposals, discussing and deciding major issues. Each higher people's court sets up a leading group for judicial reform to be responsible for supervising, guiding, making overall arrangements for and coordinating the judicial reform at courts within its jurisdiction. The proposal for any pilot program in respect of judicial reform made by a higher people's court is subject to examination and approval by the Supreme People's Court, and if it involves any major reform, by the Central Government.

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