City urges professional aid for petitioners

Updated: 2012-12-27 03:32

By XIE YU in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Shanghai's legislature passed an amendment to the city's petition regulation on Wednesday afternoon, encouraging social groups and professionals to offer petitioners consultation or even to represent them.

"Professional organizations, social groups, professionals, and volunteers can attend a petition hearing with an invitation from government organs, provide consultation and services to petitioners, or represent petitioners," said the amendment, which was approved at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress.

Petitions, or xinfang in Chinese, literally meaning letters, calls and visits, date back to China's imperial past but were formally introduced in the 1950s.

It is a traditional way for people to seek justice from higher authorities when they have information or a complaint about the performance of administrative organizations, enterprises or institutions that supply public services.

The system also strengthens ties between the government and the people.

Statistics show that while more than 10 million petitions ― some may have been filed more than once ― were issued across the country in 2009, only 1.7 million were redressed.

The amendment shows local government's determination to invite more social agencies to tackle the complaints at the grassroots level, said Zhang Chonghua, a lawyer with the Shanghai Tianyi Law Firm.

"It is in accordance with the 18th Party National Congress' requirement to push forward reform and innovation in governance and social management," he said.

Zhang said that based on his experience, most current petitions are the result of land and labor disputes. Professional organizations work efficiently to help petitioners file their appeals, and urge petition offices to handle the complaints.

More importantly, law firms can provide legal aid and mediation to reduce social conflicts and give people alternative means to settle them, such as administrative litigation, he said.

Zhang's law firm has been operating a mediation center with the financial support of Yangpu district in Shanghai.

He said that although the center does not charge for consultation, more people will go directly to a petition office to seek a solution.

Generally speaking, what the petition office does is to transfer the complaint to the government department responsible for it. But if the department does not redress the problem, it does not help the petitioner.

Administrative litigation would be more direct, but often it is relatively hard to place a case in file in China in cases of "common people suing officials", Zhang said.

Xiong Yihan, a sociologist with Fudan University, said introducing petitioners to law firms or non-government organizations will help the government filter and gather complaints at the grassroots level, which will help them to make wise decisions.

"Also, social groups will raise more rational and professional appeals, which will help the petitioners solve their problems more efficiently," he said.

The amendment will take effect on April 1.

Emergency response

The city's top legislature also passed a local regulation on Wednesday that aims to put the Law of the People's Republic of China on Emergency Response into effect.

Highway operators should cooperate with public security bureaus and traffic administrations to release information, restrict traffic speed, or close the highway temporarily if necessary. Certain operators should stop charging fees if an emergency happens, the regulation said.

Government officials will incur administrative punishment for not reporting information on time, the regulation says.

The regulation will take effect on May 1.

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