2014 marked a year of many changes and increased expectations for reforming the rule of law in China. Stepping into his new role as president of China, Xi Jinping has laid out a potentially promising and exciting agenda, outlining not only much-needed reforms and anti-corruption measures, but also measures to develop the rule of law. Last October, the Fourth Plenum of the Party Congress showed us plans for improving rule of law. In a few months, key reform areas witnessed significant progress, including:
- The establishment of three circuit courts starting in Shenzhen, which decouples local courts from administrative regions.
- The establishment of three intellectual property rights courts in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. It won’t be long before a specialized bankruptcy court operating at the national level will be established as well.
- The setting up of a tribunal for environmental cases by China’s Supreme Court. The tribunal will hear civil cases involving pollution, exploitation of natural resources, conservation of the natural environment (such as forests, rivers, soil), and so on.
*It will also hear appeals from lower courts, supervise the trial of cases and draft judicial explanations about such cases.
*This tribunal will be able to set standards for trials of cases, and help fight pollution and other offences that harm the environment.
*The environmental protection law will also be revised in April, to strengthen its ability to deter and punish polluters.
- Adopting the premise that human talent still comes first, and reforms also have to happen in that area. An experienced private lawyer or legal worker can now become a judge or a prosecutor. In less than three months after the Fourth Plenum, five intakes were witnessed at the central level. More are coming, and China has chosen to abide by the saying “choose some wise and discerning and experienced men.”
- The enforcement of a People’s Assessors system or the Chinese jury system, to bring greater transparency, responsibility and accountability to all those involved in judicial hearings and rulings. This will give judges the ability to “hear the disputes between people and judge fairly.”
- Increasing the transparency, responsibility and accountability, as well as protecting the bureaucratic system from vested government and business interests. This is in the hope that those in power will “judge carefully…(as) there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.”
These are signs of progress, and are adding to public confidence. However, this also creates tremendous challenges, and China’s reforms are already in deep water. As President Xi said in 2014, “You could say that the easy reforms – the ones that would make everyone happy – have been completed. The tasty meat has been eaten up, what’s left are the tough bones that are hard to chew. We should dare to deal with even tougher bones and dare to ford dangerous rapids”.
The key to success lies in making sure that we have a broad vision, that we take a building block approach to addressing these problems, and that we understand how these solutions can be executed in a scientific manner.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fung Global Institute’s editorial policy.