Evictions ruling could backfire, legal experts warn

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2005, 12:00am

Taking disputes out of courts' hands may bring more cases

A ruling by China's top court that eviction disputes are not a matter for the judiciary could backfire and instead drive up the number of petitions and protests, mainland legal experts have warned.

He Weifang , a law expert from Peking University, said Thursday's judicial interpretation by the Supreme People's Court was a step backwards that would fail to curb land disputes.

'The constitution was amended in 2004 in order to protect private property. But now we see a retrogressive move in this regard, which may have resulted from the court's sense of helplessness towards the situation,' he said. 'The ruling does not reflect a problem-solving attitude. It would be unwise if it had been made because of government intervention.'

Eviction disputes, often involving local authorities seeking profits from property projects, have been the trigger for most of the mass petitions and violent protests in recent years.

Professor He said the court's interpretation would leave those who were relocated with little choice but to make their cases heard by petitioning to the central government, which was what Beijing feared the most.

He said he was particularly disappointed the interpretation had virtually removed the people's chance to have a court hear land disputes, a basic human right provided by the law.

'In a country ruled by law, any judicial interpretation should not deviate from the existing laws. But the supreme court's ruling has in fact altered a law on civil lawsuits, which did not say that courts should not handle cases of land disputes,' Professor He said.

The interpretation would serve to justify the authorities' decisions to relocate entire neighbourhoods to make way for office towers and residential buildings. But widespread public dissatisfaction over the ruling would also undermine the legitimacy of the government.

Professor He warned that large-scale petitions in the capital would not be checked despite repeated stern warnings by the authorities.

Beijing lawyer Gao Zhisheng said it would be naive to believe that raising compensation, as proposed by the central government, could reduce rampant relocation disputes.

'If land requisition and forcible demolition are against the law, how meaningful is high compensation?' Mr Gao said.

Both Professor He and Mr Gao noted that before the supreme court's order, mainland courts had been reluctant to hear cases involving land disputes. Even if the cases were heard, rulings overwhelmingly favoured the authorities, they said.

Nearly two years ago, authorities detained Zheng Enchong , an activist lawyer who was advising Shanghai residents suing the city over hundreds of relocation disputes. In an indication of the government's fear that evictions will spark social unrest, Zheng was convicted of leaking state secrets - after he faxed an international human rights group - and sentenced to three years in jail.