Get qualified or go, judges told
Vivien Pik-Kwan Chan in Beijing
Sub-standard judges will be sacked if they fail to gain law school qualifications, China's top judge warned yesterday.
Supreme Court president Xiao Yang said the qualifications would be part of retraining programmes over the next five years to tie in with World Trade Organisation (WTO) demands.
Mr Xiao told a Guangdong delegates' group discussion at the National People's Congress that although efforts had been made to improve the quality of legal professionals in the past few years, the judiciary needed to do much more to meet WTO requirements.
'To meet World Trade Organisation requirements, it is very urgent and important to boost the qualifications of our judiciary team, especially judges at grassroots level,' Mr Xiao said, adding that more than 80 per cent of cases on the mainland were handled by grassroot courts.
He admitted that many judges were poorly educated, knew very little or no English, and lacked experience in dealing with economic cases. Also, most judges were still not familiar with the concept of non-prejudicial treatment and transparent legal procedures.
Some judges did not find it easy to judge cases based on the evidence, or to place justice beyond regional considerations, Mr Xiao said.
'Our target is to clean up the team within five years. Ill-qualified judges will be required to attend courses to boost their education standard to university level or above,' he added.
'If they fail, they may have a second chance to have further re-training.'
However, he said those who showed poor character or low moral standards, and those unable to gain the professional qualifications despite repeated attempts, would be sacked.
Some talented judges would be sent to Hong Kong and overseas for extra training, and he said pseudo courts would also be set up to help judges train for WTO-related cases.
'According to WTO provisions, parties involved in economic disputes, even if they happen in China, can choose to take their cases abroad,' Mr Xiao said.
He said it would be shameful and a loss of face for China if all parties chose foreign courts rather than Chinese ones because of poor professional standards on the mainland.
Mr Xiao said he was not confident five years would be long enough to upgrade the judiciary but, in the meantime, many WTO-related cases would be passed from local courts to better-qualified ones in coastal cities, such as Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Shenzhen.
The Supreme People's Court began organising the first training course at Beijing University Law School last year. So far, 8,500 judges have qualified.
Mr Xiao urged Guangdong and other provinces to start similar programmes with key universities.
He said corrupt staff would continue to be purged from the judiciary. More than 1,200 judicial employees were punished for corruption in 2000, and another 996 were punished last year.
Mr Xiao said authorities would improve facilities and refurnish the country's courts, as many were badly equipped, and the legal-aid scheme would be expanded to help under-privileged groups.