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China to pick jurors for courts
Updated: 2004-12-20 11:03

China will introduce jurors to its courts next year in the effort to improve the country's legal system.

The jurors, who are expected to have powers equal to those of a judge, will begin to sit in on cases starting May 1 and will serve five-year terms.

Candidates will be chosen through elections in January and February, China Youth Daily reported yesterday, citing the Supreme People's Court.

To qualify for the post, a candidate must have at least two years of college education, according to the court.

From March through April, the chosen candidates will undergo professional training and, after further inspection, will be authorized by county-level legislatures.

The Supreme People's Court has formed a task force to handle the selection of jurors across the country.

China currently has about 24,000 "people's jurors," but none have been chosen through the election process.

Among them, 41.5 percent were hand-picked by a people's court, and 23.7 percent were approved by court officials after they received recommendations from local authorities.

Slightly more than 47 percent were educated at college level or above, and 27.2 attended high school.

Chinese jurors have long functioned as figureheads, but the government now hopes to empower jurors in hopes of enhancing its legal network.

Improving the jury system was one of the nine major tasks the Supreme People's Court mapped out for next year during a meeting on Friday.

The meeting, attended by heads of provincial Higher People's Court, ended on Saturday in Beijing.

The news on jurors came as Xiao Yang, China's supreme justice and president of the Supreme People's Court, vowed to improve the country's judicial capacity to meet the needs of economic development.

In a keynote speech given at the court presidents meeting, Xiao said judicial capacity mainly involves "striking hard" against serious criminals and cracking down on financial and economic fraud, intellectual property infringement, human rights violations in the judicial field and power abuse by officials.

China's per capita gross domestic product exceeded US$1,000 last year. Experts say that when the figure stands between US$1,000 and US$3,000, a transition period featuring sharp social contradictions occurs.

Xiao acknowledged that China was undergoing such a period now and that the number of court cases related to state-owned company reforms, salaries in arrears, illegal land acquisitions and burglaries has risen dramatically.

"During such a period, the country needs improvement in its judicial capacity," he said.

He said the country's policy of "striking hard" against serious crimes has proven effective in safeguarding social stability and will be continued.

He also said that Chinese courts will crack down on financial and economic fraud and other crimes, including smuggling, pirated goods, intellectual property infringement, the abuse of power, dereliction of duty and graft.

Among other improvements, the number of judges will increase by 10 percent in China over the next few years to make up for the country's inadequate trial force, Xiao said.

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