The black-collar class ruling the law
The revelation that the leadership of the Communist Party decided to restore the power of its Politics and Legal Affairs Commission 22 years ago, in the wake of the June 4 crackdown, has triggered debate among lawyers, academics and others about the party's role in judicial affairs.
They have generally welcomed a suggestion by Qiao Shi, a party moderate who was chairman of the National People's Congress between 1993 and 1998 and the party official in charge of legal affairs between 1985 and 1992, that the commission's power to intervene in court cases be reduced and limited.
In a book published last week - Qiao Shi on Democracy and Rule of Law - Qiao revealed the leadership decided to restore the commission's status in early 1990, two years after it had been downgraded to a leading group. The U-turn was an effort to accommodate social changes wrought by the June 4 military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square a year earlier, according to Qiao.
The commission, a powerful body under the party's Central Committee, oversees all the mainland's law-enforcement authorities, including the police, internal security personnel, prosecutors and courts.
Many believe that there is no rule of law on the mainland because the judiciary is dictated by the commission and its local offshoots.
Professor He Weifang, from Peking University's law school, said: 'The party commissions should be scrapped, otherwise there's no point talking about the rule of law in the country.'
One internet user called the commissions 'devil organs' that 'have entirely lost human conscience'.
Another said commission officials are China's 'black-collar' class - those who make a living through committing crime or doing evil.
While praising the former official's efforts to promote rule of law, one said Qiao would have been entitled to even higher praise if he'd had the courage to scrap the party organ when he was in charge of it.
Lu Guoping , a famous columnist and author, said Qiao's book reminded the public of the deterioration in democracy and rule of law over the past decade.
'Qiao's high-profile comment has prompted a sensitive debate among academics over whether China's democracy and rule of law has progressed, stalled or regressed in the past decade or more,' Lu wrote on his blog.
While the Communist Party has repeatedly and squarely rejected Western-style democracy, it has called for judicial reform to bring about the rule of law needed to accommodate a market economy.
'But when the party talks about judicial reforms, it has all but stopped talking about judicial independence, which is the key to the introduction of rule of law,' Professor He said.
Under the current system, the police, prosecutors and courts are directly under the leadership of party commissions at various levels.
Chen Guangzhong , a former president of China University of Political Science and Law, said that violated the basic constitutional principle of division of power, which was needed to encourage checks and balances.
Chen also said that in many regional governments the police chief was also head of the party commission, which meant the police could dictate the whole prosecution and trial process.
'This is a big problem. And the party commissions are standing in the way of China's judicial reform to bring about rule of law,' Professor He said. 'So the outright solution is to scrap the body to stop the party intervening directly in judicial affairs and court cases.'
Professor Wang Xinxin , a law professor at Renmin University, said party commissions and government officials should not be allowed to intervene in specific court cases.
In his book, Qiao suggests that the commissions be limited to co-ordinating the work of judicial organs.
The mainlands' courts are plagued by a lack of judicial independence. Judges and court officials are appointed by local Communist Party organs and all legal institutions are directly supervised by the party's legal-affairs commissions.
In highly sensitive cases, like those dealing with dissidents, the judge is often just a medium, handing down a ruling already determined by the party. But even in less sensitive cases, the interests of local officials are often placed above the law.
However, the party leadership has rejected calls to keep politics and the law independent of each other. Shen Deyong , executive vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, told internet users via People's Daily Online last year that the Western-style separation of powers was not suitable for China.
The number of people reportedly investigated over the 1989 protests that ended in the June 4 military crackdown in Tiananmen Square