October 06, 2005

You are on the invidual archive page of Sunny side down. Click Simon World weblog for the main page.
Sunny side down

It's not easy being optimistic about China's future.

First the crushing fallout over Taishi continues, says the SCMP:

Guangdong police have formally arrested a rights activist after holding him in custody for three weeks for advising Taishi villagers during their fight to oust the village chief, according to a lawyer who visited him recently...Mr Yang was detained for "disturbing social stability by mass gathering" on September 13 - a day after more than 1,000 armed police stormed the Taishi government office and took away dozens of villagers. The villagers were demanding the removal of village head Chen Jinshen after alleging that he had misused village funds.

Villagers in Taishi have also lost their freedom since the riot on September 12. They are not allowed to talk with outsiders and the number of villagers still detained by the police remains unclear.

Meanwhile a social call by a professor and a lawyer on a noted activist finished up with knuckle sandwiches. Again the SCMP:
A Beijing law lecturer and a lawyer paying a social visit to a blind activist under house arrest in Shandong were escorted back to the capital after being beaten by thugs on Tuesday and interrogated until early yesterday. But Xu Zhiyong , 32, from the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and Li Fangping , 30, a lawyer in a private practice, said they would not be deterred by the attack, which came as they attempted to visit Chen Guangcheng , an opponent of violent, government-backed birth-control measures in Linyi city.

"It was a government-planned action, but the barbarous act will not intimidate us," Mr Xu said from Beijing yesterday...On Tuesday morning, the pair - along with dozens of villagers - arrived outside Mr Chen's home but were denied access. Mr Chen hurried from his house and suffered injuries to his mouth and legs when he clashed with guards. He met the pair for a minute before being pushed back into his house.

Mr Xu and Mr Li were invited to lunch on Tuesday by county officials. They told the officials Mr Chen would "talk less" about local abuses if he was released, but they refused to listen. A few hours later, when the pair were on the way back to Mr Chen's home, they were attacked by up to 30 thugs.

The men tried to report the assault to nearby policemen, who turned their backs on them. Mr Xu and Mr Li were kicked and pushed into a gutter before police arrived and took them - but not the attackers - to a police station, where they were accused of "attacking people". They were interrogated until 3am and escorted back to Beijing by three county policemen yesterday afternoon, after they again tried to visit Mr Chen in the morning.

Mr Chen, who has helped several villagers fighting forced abortion and sterilisation take their cases to court, was "kidnapped" by Shandong police in Beijing last month and put under house arrest.

Linyi city made international headlines in July when Mr Chen helped Washington Post journalists report on the local birth-control programme. Last month, National Population and Family Planning Commission spokesman Yu Xuejun told Xinhua it would investigate the "reported illegal family planning practices" in Shandong.

But the final sucker punch is the most subtle. I am a great believer that consistent, open and honest rule of law is a key to freedom. Rule of law has three important aspects: legislation (by a parliament with elected representatives), enforcement (by police that are not corrupt and closely monitored) and the justice system (again sans corruption, with timely and fair decisions and clear checks and balances). However China's court system is buckling under the strain of an explosion in lawsuits, increased workloads and a falling number of lowly paid judges. We can prattle on about freedom and democracy all we like, but the details matter as much as the broad brushstrokes. The SCMP on China's rickety court system:

Beijing's Chaoyang District Court is one of the busiest lower-level courts in the capital. Last year it took on a record 46,000 lawsuits, but that record looks certain to be overtaken this year, with the court having accepted about 31,000 cases in the first half of the year alone.

The court has 177 judges who each preside over an average of seven hearings a day, according to the People's Court Daily, which quoted one of the court's judges as saying that she still had more than 100 cases to assess and her court roster was fully booked for the coming month.

Chaoyang judges routinely work overtime and their caseload is climbing year by year, according to Mao Li , director of the court's research office.

A People's Court Daily reporter says the load on the legal system is obvious inside the court. "You can immediately feel the tense atmosphere when you step inside the court building," the reporter said. "There are always long queues in the registration hall. Parties in the suits have to wait outside the courtrooms for a long time for their turn because each courtroom has about five different cases every day on average."

Further south, in Guangzhou, the situation has become so acute that the city has had to "borrow" judges from other areas to cope with the "crazy" caseload, the Guangzhou Daily reports. In the past decade and a half, the number of lawsuits accepted by the city's system has risen from about 23,400 in 1990 to more than 160,000 last year.

But the number of judges has declined slightly over the past few years. "The mad increase in lawsuit cases and decline in the number of judges has led to a severe deficiency in judicial power," a Guangzhou judge said. "Working overtime is a common practice for Guangzhou judges."

In the relatively prosperous city of Shenzhen, the intermediate court has sought to counter the increase in cases by implementing a collective overtime plan for its arbitrators since 2000, a move that could be defined as illegal under national law.

From last month, city judges have had to work overtime every Tuesday and Thursday night, and should work every Saturday. According to the "Shenzhen 2004 Court Work Report", the workload of Shenzhen judges has doubled in the past five years.

The report also said 75 judges had asked to quit during that period because of the "extraordinary work pressure". At the national level, the number of cases accepted has risen steadily every year while the country's judicial ranks have thinned. Mainland courts accepted 7.87 million lawsuits last year, compared with 5.68 million in 2003 and 5.35 million in 2000.

Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang told a meeting of the National People's Congress Standing Committee that the number of judges had declined by 13 per cent between 2000 and last year.

The state does not release data on the number of judges, but there were thought to be about 280,000 in early 2000.

Wang Xuetang , a judge and researcher from Shandong , has been studying China's court system for more than 10 years and says economic development and social change have been the critical factors behind the shortage. Judge Wang said there had been an explosion in the number of disputes because respect for social institutions was not well established in Chinese society. He said members of the public were also more aware of their legal rights - and therefore more willing to file cases - and judges were now expected to meet higher standard.

In the past, China's judges were mainly either retired army personnel or court cadres who had worked their way up to judicial positions. But for the past three years, the mainland has had unified judicial exams which all judges, prosecutors and lawyers have to pass in order to practice.

"The unified examination became a barrier for judge recruitment in underdeveloped areas where the quality of judicial personnel is relatively low," Judge Wang said, while admitting the exams were a significant step forward in terms of national reform.

For example, about 340 judicial staff from Qinghai sat the exams in 2002 when the system was implemented, but only eight passed. Poor pay had also made work on the bench less attractive. Judge Wang said his annual income was only about 30,000 yuan, which is about the same as an ordinary government worker and much less than a lawyer. "Judges should be better paid because they engage in creative work and face heavy workloads and great pressure," he said.

But Peking University Law School professor He Weifang disputed the claims that China did not have enough judges, saying the "shortage" was an illusion created by defects in the judicial system. "The proportion of judges in terms of population numbers in China is much higher than in many western countries," Professor He said.

He said one of the main problems was that many judges were doing work that should be outside their range of responsibilities. "Many basic-level courts are required by the local government to oversee investment invitations, family planning, tax collection and so on," Professor He said. Professor He said an ambiguous division of labour inside the courts forced judges to waste time on paperwork that would be done by assistants in other countries.

"Only about two-thirds of existing judges are really doing judges' work," he said. "The judges also have to spend much energy and time balancing different interest groups who can exert pressure on justice. It is useless to increase the number of judges in this case."

Professor He said corruption had dragged down the reputation of the country's judges and turned people away from the profession. "Prestige and independence are more important than salary for a judge," he said, adding that it would be a more popular career choice if judges' authority and reputation could be guaranteed.

posted by Simon on 10.06.05 at 10:17 AM in the China politics category.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Send a manual trackback ping to this post.


Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?