February 26, 2015 / 3:38 AM / 3 years ago

China's top court unveils deadlines for legal reform

Zhou Qiang, President of China's Supreme People's Court, attends National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, March 7, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top court set a five-year deadline on Thursday for legal reforms to protect the rights of individuals, prevent miscarriages of justice and make its judiciary more professional as the ruling Communist Party seeks to quell public discontent.

A statement on the Supreme Court’s website promised specific deadlines for each goal, including support for a “social atmosphere of justice” by 2018.

It gave more details of a decision reached at a four-day meeting last year, when the party pledged to speed up legislation to fight corruption and make it tougher for officials to exert control over the judiciary.

Despite the legal reforms, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration has shown no interest in political change and has detained dozens of dissidents, including lawyers.

China’s top court stressed that one of the five basic principles of legal reform was adhering to the party’s leadership and “ensuring the correct political orientation”.

He Xiaorong, the director of the Supreme People’s Court’s reform division, said the court “would make officials bear responsibility for dereliction of duty” for cases that have a wide impact.

“Only through the establishment of such a system can we ensure that we can guarantee social fairness and justice in every case,” He told a news conference, according to a transcript on the court’s website.

The measures reflect worries about rising social unrest. Anger over land grabs, corruption and pollution - issues often left unresolved by courts - have resulted in violence between police and residents in recent years, threatening social order.

The court said it would prohibit criminal defendants from wearing vests and jumpsuits to trials, effectively removing the presumption of guilt that is common in China. It pledged to strengthen the prevention of torture to gain evidence and “effectively prevent miscarriages of justice”.

It would also establish a performance evaluation system for judges, “perfect the mechanism for protecting lawyers’ rights” and establish media galleries in courts for certain trials.

It also promised to boost transparency, saying it would make more information available, and reduce local protectionism by changing the jurisdiction of courts.

How much impact the reforms would have was uncertain. Laws are often not enforced and can be abused by the police.

On Wednesday, the court urged party officials to shun Western-style judicial independence and reject “erroneous Western thought”, state media said on Thursday, as controls over the media, dissent and the Internet are tightened.

Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Paul Tait

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