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Judicial Reform in China

Judicial Reform in China
(October 2012Information Office of the State Council)


(2012年10月 国务院新闻办公室)

 前 言
I. Judicial System and Reform Process
II. Maintaining Social Fairness and Justice
III. Strengthening Human Rights Protection
IV. Enhancing Judicial Capabilities
V. Judicial Power Serving the People
The judicial system is a major component of the political system, while judicial impartiality is a significant guarantee of social justice.
Since the founding of New China in 1949, and especially since the reform and opening-up policies were introduced some three decades ago, China, proceeding from its national conditions, carrying on the achievements of Chinese traditional legal culture and learning from other civilizations regarding their rule of law, has been building and improving its socialist judicial system with Chinese characteristics, safeguarding social justice and making significant contributions to the rule of law of the mankind.
China's judicial system is generally consistent with its basic national conditions at the primary stage of socialism, its state system of people's democratic dictatorship, and its government system of the National People's Congress. With the further development of China's reform and opening up, particularly due to the development of the socialist market economy, the comprehensive implementation of the fundamental principle of rule of law, and the increasing demands of the public for justice, China's judicial system urgently needs to be reformed, improved and developed.
In recent years, China has been promoting the reform of the judicial system and its work mechanism vigorously, steadily and pragmatically. Aiming to safeguard judicial justice and focusing on optimizing the allocation of judicial functions and power, enhancing protection of human rights, improving judicial capacity, and practicing the principle of “judicature for the people,” China has been striving to improve its judicial system with Chinese characteristics, expand judicial democracy, promote judicial openness and ensure judicial impartiality. This provides a solid judicial guarantee for China's economic development, social harmony and national stability.
I. Judicial System and Reform Process
The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 ushered in a new era for the building of China's judicial system. The Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which functioned as a provisional Constitution, and the Organic Law of the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China, both promulgated in September 1949, laid the cornerstone for legal construction in New China. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China promulgated in 1954, the Organic Law of the People's Courts of the People's Republic of China, the Organic Law of the People's Procuratorates of the People's Republic of China among other laws and regulations, defined the organic system and basic functions of the people's courts and procuratorates, established the systems of collegiate panels, defense, public trial, people's jurors, legal supervision, civil mediation, putting into place the basic framework of China's judicial system.
Toward the end of 1950s, especially during the ten-year tumultuous “cultural revolution” (1966-1976), China's judicial system suffered severe damage. Since the reform and opening-up policies were introduced in 1978, China, after summing up its historical experience, established the fundamental policy of promoting socialist democracy and improving socialist legal construction, restored and rebuilt the judicial system, and formulated and amended a range of fundamental laws. In the 1990s, China established the fundamental principle of governing the country in accordance with the law, and quickened the step to build China into a socialist country under the rule of law. During the process of promoting social progress, democracy and the rule of law, China's judicial system is continuously improving and developing.
1. Basic Characteristics of China's Judicial System
China is a socialist country with a people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants. The people's congress system is the organic form of its state power. China's state system and system of government decide that its judicial power comes from the people, belongs to the people and serves the people. The people's courts and the people's procuratorates are created by the people's congresses at various levels, to which they are responsible and by which they are supervised.
The people's court is the basic judicial organ in China. The state has set up the Supreme People's Court, local people's courts at different levels and special people's courts such as military courts. They adjudicate civil, criminal and administrative cases in accordance with the law, and carry out law enforcement activities including the execution of civil and administrative cases and state compensation. The Supreme People's Court supervises the judicial work of all local people's courts and special people's courts. The people's court at a higher level supervises the judicial work of the people's court at the next lower level. In litigious activities, China adopts the systems of public trial, collegiate panels, challenge, people's jurors, defense, and judgment of the second instance as final, among others.
The people's procuratorate is the procuratorial organ in China. The state has set up the Supreme People's Procuratorate, local people's procuratorates at different levels and special people's procuratorates such as military procuratorates. The Supreme People's Procuratorate directs the work of local people's procuratorates at different levels and special people's procuratorates. A people's procuratorate at a higher level directs the work of a people's procuratorate at the next level below it. The people's procuratorate exercises legal supervision over criminal, civil and administrative litigations in accordance with the law.
The people's court and the people's procuratorate exercise their adjudicative power and procuratorial power independently and impartially in accordance with the law. Their exercise of power is subject to the supervision of the National People's Congress, the Chinese People' s Political Consultative Conference and the general public.
The people's courts, the people's procuratorates and the organs of public security handle criminal cases according to their respective functions, and collaborate with and check each other, so as to ensure the accurate and efficient implementation of law. The organs of public security take charge of the investigation, detention, arrest and pretrial in criminal cases; the people's procuratorates conduct procuratorial work, approve proposals for arrest, investigate cases directly accepted by them, and initiate public prosecution; and the people's courts are responsible for conducting trials.
2. Objectives, Principles and Process of China's Judicial Reform
Since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policies, China has witnessed rapid economic and social development, and the public's awareness of the importance of the rule of law has been remarkably enhanced. Due to the profound changes in the judicial environment, judicial work in China is facing new situations and problems. The defects and rigidity in China's current judicial system and its work mechanism are becoming increasingly prominent, and they need to be improved gradually through reform.
The fundamental objectives of China's judicial reform are to ensure that the people's courts and people's procuratorates exercise adjudicative power and procuratorial power fairly and independently; to establish an impartial, efficient and authoritative socialist judicial system; and to provide solid and reliable judicial guarantee for safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of the people, social equity and justice, and lasting national stability.
China carries out judicial reform based on its national conditions. It draws on the sound practices of other countries but does not blindly copy them; it keeps pace with the times but does not advance rashly and blindly. It sticks to the line of relying on the people, strives to meet their expectations, tackles problems of particular concern to the people, and subjects itself to their supervision and examination, so as to ensure the reform is for the people, relies on the people and benefits the people. It pushes forward the reform in accordance with the law, abiding by the Constitution and other laws and regulations, while those measures that contravene the laws in force should only be implemented after the laws are revised. It adheres to the principle of overall planning and coordination, comprehensive designing, and proceeding in an orderly and gradual way.
As early as in the 1980s, China started reforms in court trials and ensuring professionalism in judicature, focusing on enhancing the function of court trials, expanding the openness of trials, improving attorney defense functions, and training professional judges and procurators.
In 2004, China launched large-scale judicial reforms based on overall planning, deployment and implementation. Starting with issues that caused complaints from the public and the key links that hamper judicial justice, according to the demands of promoting judicial impartiality and strict enforcement of the law, and proceeding from the regular pattern and characteristics of judicial practice, China improved the structure of its judicial organs, division of judicial functions and system of judicial management, to establish a judicial system featuring clearly defined power and responsibilities, mutual collaboration and restraint, and highly efficient operation. Thereby, China's judicial reform entered a phase of overall planning and advancing in an orderly way.
Since 2008, China has initiated a new round of judicial reform, and entered a stage of deepening in key areas and overall advancement. The reform proceeds from the demands of the public for justice, with safeguarding the people's common interests as its fundamental task, promoting social harmony as the main principle and strengthening supervision and restraint of power as priority. China aims to tackle problems in the key links that hamper judicial justice and restrain judicial capability, remove existing barriers in the institutional setup and operational mechanism as well as provision of legal guarantee, and put forward the specific tasks for judicial reform in four aspects - optimizing the allocation of judicial functions and power, implementing the policy of balancing leniency and severity, building up the ranks of judicial workers, and ensuring judicial funding. Currently, the tasks of this round of judicial reform have been basically completed, as relevant laws have been amended and improved. As China is making continuous progress in economic and social development, its judicial reform is bound to advance further.
II. Maintaining Social Fairness and Justice
Maintaining social fairness and justice is the value to be enforced in China's judicial reform. China aims its judicial reform at strengthening its judicial organs' capability in maintaining social justice by optimizing the structure of the judicial organs and allocation of their functions and power, standardizing judicial acts, improving judicial proceedings, and enhancing judicial democracy and legal supervision.
1. Optimizing the Allocation of Judicial Functions and Power
The rationalization and optimization of judicial functions and power has a direct bearing on the materialization of justice. China, starting from removing the institutional barriers that affect judicial impartiality, has enhanced internal checks in judicial organs, clarified the work relationship between the people's courts and the people's procuratorates at different levels, standardized and improved retrial procedures, and established consistent law-enforcement system and judicial authentication management system. These reforms have improved judicial organs' capacity for maintaining fairness, helped to safeguard social equity and justice, and fulfilled the public's new expectations and demands for the judicial system in maintaining justice.
Separation of filing, trial and execution of cases. The people's courts at all levels have established case-filing tribunals, execution bureaus and other departments in addition to the original criminal, civil and administrative adjudication tribunals. Case-filing, trial and execution are handled separately by different offices, which act independently and exercise a mutual-check function to ensure the fair exercise of adjudicative and execution power.
Standardizing the retrial of remanded cases and designated cases. To correct the irregular practices in the procedures regarding retrial of remanded cases and designated cases, the Civil Procedure Law amended in 2012 revised and improved the procedure for the retrial of remanded cases. The new provisions clearly state that after the original people's court makes its ruling in the retrial of a remanded case, if the litigant makes an appeal, the people's court of second instance shall not send the case back for a retrial. The Criminal Procedure Law, amended in 2012, articulates that a criminal case designated for retrial by a lower-level people's court shall be tried by one other than the original court in principle.
Regularizing and improving a unified execution mechanism for civil and administrative cases. Full and effective execution of a judgment or verdict given by the court bears on effective protection of the lawful rights of all parties involved and the expression of judicial authority. In recent years, local people's courts have established a mechanism of execution that works closely with departments in charge of public security, procuratorial work, finance, land resources, construction, business and commerce, as well as exit-entry administration. The people's courts exercise separation of jurisdiction from execution. The higher and intermediate people's courts have established execution command centers for unified management and coordination of execution, and, when necessary, can have their power elevated or allow them to carry out the execution beyond the prescribed region. The reform of the execution system has further strengthened the internal checks on the exercise of execution power, promoted impartial and standardized execution, and effectively protected the legitimate rights of the parties concerned.
Reforming the procedures for examining and approving arrests in power-abuse cases. To prevent arrests by mistake, China has reformed the procedure for examining and approving arrests in power-abuse cases. For power-abuse cases filed with and investigated by a people's procuratorate below the provincial level, the approval for an arrest shall be examined and determined by the people's procuratorate at the next higher level. This reform has strengthened the supervision of a people's procuratorate at a higher level over one at a lower level on law enforcement.
Improving the system of judicial authentication management. Judicial authentication refers to the activity of an authenticator applying scientific technology or specialized knowledge to identify and determine the specialized issues involved in a lawsuit and giving authentication opinions. Before the judicial reform, the judicial authentication system in China had problems as legislation was incomplete, management was not standardized and standards were not consistent. To solve these problems, China's legislative organ promulgated the Decision on the Management of Judicial Authentication in 2005, thereby establishing a uniform management and registration system for judicial authentication. The judicial administrative departments of the State Council take charge of the registration and management of judicial authenticators and judicial authentication institutions in China, while the judicial administrative departments of the people's governments at the provincial level are responsible for the registration upon examination, roster formulation and roster announcement of judicial authenticators and judicial authentication institutions. The people's courts and judicial administrative departments do not have judicial authentication institutions any longer; judicial authentication institutions already set up by investigation organs to meet the needs of their work will not provide judicial authentication services to the public. The state promotes a mechanism that combines administrative management with trade associations' self-disciplinary management, and adopts the system of judicial authenticators' independent practice in accordance with the law, which ensures that judicial authentication is standardized and neutral. By the end of 2011, there were 5,014 judicial authentication institutions and 52,812 judicial authenticators approved and registered in China.
2. Standardizing Judicial Acts
Social fairness and justice shall be ensured in the trial of every case and in each judicial act. Due to the country's unbalanced economic and social development, different law-enforcement capabilities of judicial personnel and remnants of local protectionism, there are still problems like non-transparent exercise of judicial discretion and non-standardized judicial acts. In recent years, China's judicial organs have vigorously pushed forward the standardization of penalties, established the case guidance system, and enhanced case management, all of which have promoted standardization of judicial acts.
Standardizing penalties. To regulate acts in giving out a sentence, the Supreme People's Court, by summarizing pilot experiences, has formulated the Guiding Opinions on Sentencing by the People's Courts (Trial Implementation) and Opinions on Several Issues Concerning the Regulation of Sentencing Procedures (Trial Implementation)。 Both documents clarify the sentencing processes, subdivide the range of statutory sentencing and clarify the quantification standards for different circumstances when giving out a sentence. For cases of public prosecution, the people's procuratorate provides suggestions on sentencing in accordance with the law, while the litigant, the defender and the procurator may give opinions on the penalty. Comparatively independent sentencing procedures have been established for court trials, so as to facilitate investigations and debates over the facts and evidence concerning conviction and sentencing in a case. The people's courts should explain the reasons for sentencing in their documents of criminal judgment. These reforms have further standardized sentencing jurisdiction, and maintained transparency and impartiality of sentencing.
Establishing the case guidance system. In 2010, China's judicial organs issued regulations on building a case guidance system, marking the establishment of a case guidance system with Chinese characteristics. Different from the system of case judgment in the common law, China's case guidance system - under the statutory law - uses cases to give directions for the accurate understanding and appropriate application of the provisions of laws. In recent years, judicial organs have made public cases that are typical in the application of laws as guiding cases and references for judicial personnel at all levels to settle similar cases. The case guidance system has improved the standardized exercise of judicial discretion, and enhanced uniformity in the application of the law.
Enhancing case management. The people's courts and people's procuratorates have set up special case management institutions to improve the management of case-handling procedures and quality. By the end of May, 2012, nearly 1,400 people's courts had set up special trial management institutions, and nearly 1,600 people's procuratorates had set up special case management institutions. Public security organs have arranged for full-time/part-time legal personnel at the basic-level law enforcement organs to supervise and examine the process of case handling. Judicial organs have widely established information platforms for case management, which have realized online case handling, supervision and appraisal, and improved the level of standardized case handling.
3. Expanding Judicial Openness
In view of multiple social conflicts, large numbers of cases, and newly emerging problems and situations, China's judicial organs, while building up their judicial capacity, are comprehensively promoting judicial openness, so as to ensure that judicial power is exercised openly, fairly and impartially under the supervision of all the people.
Expanding the items and content of judicial openness. People's courts extend judicial openness in court trial to all other processes such as case-filing, execution, hearing, issue of documents, and jurisdiction affairs. The people's procuratorates make fully public case-handling procedures, case review procedures, litigation participators' rights, interests and obligations, and results of legal supervision in accordance with the law. Public security and judicial administration organs make known to the public their main functions and responsibilities, the basis, procedures and results of law enforcement, and discipline in the case of police affairs.
Diversifying the forms and carriers of judicial information disclosure. The form of judicial openness has been changed from separate information release by each judicial department to unified information disclosure through a designated information service platform. The carriers of judicial information disclosure have been extended from the traditional public notice boards, newspapers, periodicals and pamphlets, to websites, blogs, microblogs, instant communication tools, and other newly emerging online media. A press spokesman news briefing mechanism has been established and improved for timely judicial information release.
Enhancing the effectiveness of and guarantee for judicial openness. The reasoning and argumentation of all documents in relation to judgments, procuratorial work and public security affairs will be strengthened. Ordinary people and experts are invited to attend hearings and arguments. Email boxes are opened as a means of communication with the people and hotlines of the same number across the country are created for people to report offences. There are designated days when heads of judicial departments meet with visitors. The state has strengthened the manpower and material guarantees for judicial openness. All these measures have ensured that judicial openness advances in an orderly way and achieves positive results.
4. Enhancing Judicial Democracy
The people's courts as the judicial organs and the people's procuratorates as the legal supervisory organs also need to promote democracy to ensure judicial impartiality. China is striving to establish and improve the systems of people's jurors and people's supervisors. This provides a significant guarantee for developing socialist democratic politics, and realizing the people's participation in the administration of state affairs in accordance with the law.
Improving the system of people's jurors. The system of people's jurors is a major way for the public to directly participate in and supervise judicial work. In 2004, China's legislative organ promulgated the Decision on Improving the System of People's Jurors. The state has expanded the sources of people's jurors to all walks of life, and determine the people's jurors for cases by random selection from the rosters. In a collegiate panel, people's jurors have the same power as the judges, except that they cannot serve as chief judges, and exercise the right to vote independently for the findings of fact and the application of law. The people's courts at all levels have held training sessions for people's jurors, mainly focusing on judicial procedure, professional skills and awareness of the rule of law, so as to improve their capability to perform their duties.
表1 2006 - 2011年人民陪审员参审案件情况


人民陪审员参审 案件量(件)




19. 73






22. 48






38. 42



46. 50


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