Anti-graft brochure has much to say
A brochure on resisting corruption, which the Zhejiang Higher People's Court sent to all judges in the province this week, is significant - but not necessarily for the reason its authors intended.
One legal scholar said it was unlikely to be of any use in stamping out rampant corruption within the judiciary, and instead inadvertently highlighted the size of the problem.
On the mainland, the first thought that pops into the heads of most litigants is to bribe the judges hearing the case.
The brochure handed to Zhejiang judges this week, titled 'To deal with bribery flexibly and refuse bribers politely - a brochure advising judges to refuse gifts, invitations and lobbying', was supposedly aimed at teaching judges how to preserve their judicial impartiality without putting too much stress on their social networks.
It lays out 24 scenarios and gives detailed suggestions about what judges should do in each situation.
For example, a judge who finds shopping coupons or cash hidden in the litigation materials sent to his office is told he should, in concert with the court's anti-corruption officials, return the gifts to the person who sent them, tell the person who sent them to collect them within 10 days, or remit the money to the sender's bank account. If the briber refuses to accept the return of the money, the judge is told to hand it in to anti-corruption officials and let the briber know what has happened to it.
If a litigant attends an important event hosted by a judge's family, such as a wedding or a funeral, the judge should record the litigant's name and the amount of money offered and contact the litigant immediately. Besides thanking the litigant, the judge should explain to him that judges are not allowed to receive presents from litigants. The judge is also advised to tell the litigant to be confident about the impartiality of the court and to report the case to the anti-corruption authorities.
Other scenarios include a litigant visiting a judge's home and dealing with the judge's relatives, a litigant paying to top up a judge's mobile-phone account and a litigant inviting a judge to lunch or dinner.
The Southern Metropolis News quoted a Zhejiang Higher People's Court propaganda official as saying that all 24 scenarios were based on the personal experiences of its judges.
The official said that Chinese society had traditionally relied on social networks - known as guanxi - and many people would mobilise them to gain access to judges if they encountered a lawsuit.
'Judges don't live in a vacuum, and it's highly likely that their family members, colleagues and teachers will talk to them or ask them to accept bribes in order to influence them on specific cases,' the official said.
But rejecting bribes firmly and coldly would damage relations between judges and their friends or relatives, so the brochure had been compiled to help judges deal with bribery without causing embarrassment.
However, one internet user said that the brochure would 'only benefit its publisher, and not society'.
Another described the brochure as 'the funniest thing' and asked why 'turning down bribes needs to be taught'.
Zhang Xuezhong , a professor from the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, said the brochure highlighted the prevalence and seriousness of corruption in courts and the failure of existing anti-corruption regulations.
'People who insist on being clean won't be embarrassed by refusing bribes and won't be concerned that their social network could be hurt,' Zhang said.
'But the current regulations are quite ineffective in stopping those who are prone to taking bribes.'
The bulk of the suggestions in the brochure are not new to mainland judges or government officials.
Civil servants have all been told before to hand over bribes to the anti-corruption authorities if they find themselves unable to decline them.
And early this year, the Zhejiang Higher People's Court issued a regulation designed to prevent social networks 'from affecting the court's work adversely' and banned judges from meeting litigants privately.
In April of last year, nine judges in Zhanjiang , Guangdong, were exposed for taking bribes ranging from 8,000 yuan (HK$9,680) to 180,000 yuan from a local 'litigation agent' from 2003 to 2007, the Guangzhou Daily reported.
To combat corruption in courts, the judicial authorities should step up supervision and punishment of those who offer and accept bribes and make the hearing of cases more transparent.
The advice outlined in the brochure, which doesn't carry the force of a regulation or talk about any penalties, will no doubt be ignored.