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Central cash to fund fair judicial process
China Daily  Updated: 2005-09-29 06:03

In its latest roadmap for reforms in the next three years, the Supreme People's Procuratorate expressed an intention to make local people's procuratorates financially independent of their equivalent-level governments.

It has been proposed that the expenses of local procuratorates be guaranteed by State finances, and included in central and provincial budgets.

This, once it materializes, may well be the most sensible move ever taken by the country's procuratorial authorities towards judicial independence.

Under the country's present institutional arrangements, procuratorates are financially affiliated to a local government.

The expenditure of the procuratorate of a certain county is part of that county's annual budget. Both the expenses and salaries of prosecutors are appropriated from local revenue.

The decades-old practice uses the time-honoured logical reasoning that the Western concept of checks and balances is considered detrimental to the conformity of State power.

In a society where State power is defined as the sole representative of public interests, such power brooks no separation.

So there is only a "division of work" between a county magistrate and the local chief procurator.

While guaranteeing the integrity of State power, the design has led to embarrassing dilemmas involving the country's judiciary.

The most awkward may be that prosecutors are required to be independent, neutral, fair and just, and to resist interference by administrative powers, while they remain financially reliant on them.

How can one speak of independence before someone who can take the bread out of your mouth?

It is not fair to ignore the great pains the procuratorial authorities have taken over the years to deliver justice. We have also witnessed impressive improvements in that regard. But there is a limit to the impact of their self-improvement.

As long as our judiciary has to depend on local governments for bread and butter, independence or neutrality is out of the question.

The Supreme People's Procuratorate is at the threshold of a breakthrough of far-reaching significance.

Its idea of financial independence for local procuratorates represents a pragmatic compromise between our need for independent procuratorial work and the ideological resistance to the feared "split of State power."

As the new mechanism will rip procuratorates from the clutches of local administrative chiefs and relieve them of funding problems, they will be able to concentrate on criminal investigations.

Depriving local officials of the all-important monetary leverage, the fresh approach will remove the lingering threat to judicial independence.

Like the procuratorates, the country's court system has been funded in a similar manner and shared the same challenges.

If local procuratorates can become financially independent, why not local courts?

(China Daily 09/29/2005 page4)

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