Judges 'powerless to rule independently'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 December, 2004, 12:00am

Courts will not be able to treat cases impartially if the power to appoint and remove judges remains in the hands of local governments, a mainland lawyer says.

Speaking at a seminar at the University of Hong Kong yesterday, Pu Zhiqiang said the mainland system prevented judges from ruling independently, and compromised the fairness of court verdicts.

Mr Pu is one of the defence lawyers for Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao , two authors who were sued for libel in Anhui province for their best-selling book An Investigative Report of Chinese Farmers.

The book, banned on the mainland, exposed years of mistreatment of farmers in Anhui. Unlike other similar publications which have hidden the identities of officials involved, the book named those who were responsible.

The two authors are now writing a book about the lawsuit.

In the seminar, Mr Pu said that because mainland judges were often not free to rule in court, 'they may be forced to sign on to court decisions they may not agree with'.

Citing his own experience in the libel lawsuit, Mr Pu said the fact that the court had yet to issue its ruling was because it was waiting for a 'good opportunity' to rule against the two authors.

'The court could not just rule at the end of the hearing that the two authors have lost,' Mr Pu said. 'That's why the court has to adjourn the hearing and wait for a good time to hand down the verdict.'

The two authors enjoyed popular support among farmers in Anhui.

However, local officials were angry that the authors named them as being responsible for years of suffering by the farmers, including torture and imprisonment of those who defied government edicts to pay taxes and various levies.

In the seminar, Mr Pu said most libel cases on the mainland were filed by government officials and celebrities. He suggested that perhaps it would be better if legislation was put in place to regulate such cases.

He also pointed out that judicial autonomy was even more important on the mainland because the media was controlled by the state.