Courts court change

Updated: 2014-08-13 07:24

By Cao Yin (China Daily)

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"In other words, I heard a case but was not necessarily expected to give the verdict," he said.

Judicial reform office director He Xiaorong said he was familiar with Zhang's case and told China Daily it was a pity that he finally decided to leave.

"I was sorry to hear that Zhang didn't receive the dignity expected of the job. I know of many judges who have had similar experiences," He said.

Better selection

The judicial reform will improve the treatment and protection of judges, He, from the top court, said. That includes increasing judges' salaries and improving medical benefits and welfare.

A special committee to select judges at the provincial level will also be developed to ensure judicial quality.

Judges will be responsible for the cases that they hear and be required to write the related judicial documents, he said. That means their judgments will not be referred to chief judges or even the president of the court.

"We must avoid such administrative interference with judgments to ensure the independence of judges," He said.

Learning from abroad

Chinese courts will learn from the judicial experience of other countries, and the ongoing reform will be approached with an open attitude, an official of China's top court said.

"Reform cannot be developed in a closed manner. Our judicial reform is no exception," said He Xiaorong, director of the judicial reform office with the Supreme People's Court.

"Some other countries such as the US and Germany have rich experience in the judicial field, which we can learn from and use for reference," he said.

Chinese courts must also study the litigation system and observe how evidence is reviewed in these developed countries, he said. The independence of judges in producing verdicts must also be taken into consideration, he said.

China's top court is already meeting at least one foreign work group every week, including scholars from Harvard University and government administrators from Britain, he said.

"They are interested in our judicial system and would like to communicate with us. For example, some foreigners have spoken highly of our efforts on judicial transparency," he said.

The visits and communication are also a good opportunity for Chinese judges to be open to the judicial experience of the foreign professors and researchers to help with the legal problems they encounter in their daily work, he said.

"But some specific measures of our reform won't be released and we will not totally copy from other countries. After all, a few of our judicial problems must be tackled by Chinese judges alone, and these need time to resolve."

"Senior judicial staff can give different opinions for a controversial case, but their suggestions must be duly recorded.

"If a judicial superior disagrees with a judgment, he or she must provide the explanation on paper. Otherwise, the verdict cannot be changed," He said.

Such suggestions must also be disclosed online for public scrutiny, he said.

It is important to protect younger judges and ensure their professionalism and dignity in their work, he said.

As a crucial part of the reform to improve the selection of the judiciary, the top court also said that judicial officers will be divided into three categories: judges, assistants and administrative staff.

Shanghai, which is hosting a pilot program in the judicial reform, has issued quotas for judicial officials. Judges will take up 33 percent of the number of judicial officials, while assistants will form 52 percent and administrative officers the rest.

"That means about 85 percent of judicial staff, including chief judges and presidents, will be encouraged and engaged in trials. In that case, the number of judges will be able to accommodate the increasing number of cases," He said.

He reiterated that seniority and age will not be major factors in the latest arrangements.

But those like former judge Zhang Wei still expressed concerns that current senior legal officials with administrative titles will occupy more positions in the judiciary, with younger judges and court clerks being squeezed out.

Yao Jianlong, a professor specializing in criminal justice at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said that the system cannot be rigid in its selection of the judiciary.

"Judge selection is key in the reform, and the list of suitable people must be updated," Yao said.

"If the selected judges are not qualified, they should make way for others."

Lawyer Yi Shenghua said judge selection must be stricter if the latest quota is implemented and it is urgent for the top court to spell out in detail the requirements for the job.

More than 10 judges, some of whom form the backbone of their courts, have expressed to Yi their desire to quit, he said.

"The number of cases handled in the past three to five years should be used as a major factor in qualifying judges," Yi said.

"Only in this way can those with administrative titles not become judges."

"The selection cannot be too tough. Otherwise, some judges in the grassroots courts will be sacrificed, and our goal to take trial experience as a core criteria will not be realized," he said.

Cheng Lei, an associate law professor in the judicial reform center at Renmin University of China, confirmed that one-third of the current number of judges will be able to stay in their positions after the latest quota is enforced.

"The percentage should be applied on the ground. For instance, the number for Qinghai province in Northwest China must be different from that of developed coastal regions," Cheng said.

Judge selection should be diverse, but placing a certain amount of judges with enough social experience is also necessary, "as judges in the United States and Japan are old and can tackle more than five times the number of cases a year than those in China", he said.

But he also encouraged young judges to be patient. "Their talent will eventually get recognition," he said.

"The judicial reform is to allow judges to effectively play their role in trials."

"In other words, a judge's capability and quality in hearing cases are key in meeting the legal challenges," he said.

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