Top court recruiting lawyers to act as judges
Bringing in outside expertise will speed reform of judicial system, experts say
The Supreme People's Court is recruiting 20 experienced lawyers to work as chief judges in its criminal courts, a big step towards judicial reform following the court's reclamation this year of the right to review death sentence appeals.
The court sent an internal notice through the Ministry of Justice to lawyers' associations across China this month, seeking to recruit 20 outstanding criminal lawyers to work as chief judges in its criminal courts.
The move has been commended as a step forward, introducing public talent into a team of judges long suffering from incompetence.
'The Supreme People's Court, after the changes in the execution-sentence review system, needs to recruit new judges to enhance its operational department,' said an internal circular issued by the Beijing Lawyers' Association to all Beijing law firms earlier this month.
They would have the official rank of section chief or deputy bureau chief.
'The candidates should be experienced lawyers, with good morality, a reliable political background, strong professional proficiency, especially in the field of criminal law, with a master's degree and at least eight years of practical experience, aged between 35 and 45,' the circular said.
A deputy president of the Anhui Higher People's Court, Wang Limin, said bringing in outside expertise would bolster China's courts. Mr Wang, formerly a successful lawyer who became a chief judge in 2001, said he earned 50,000 yuan a year, 'less than a tenth of what I made as a lawyer'.
'But the excitement of contributing my legal knowledge to daily court practice was thrilling, so I expect there will be some successful lawyers willing to join the judge crew and contribute their practical knowledge and experience to the court, regardless of the money.'
Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said the recruitment signalled a shift in thinking on the part of the Supreme People's Court to look beyond the traditional talent pool of law school graduates and local court judges.
'But lawyers might worry that they cannot fully control case sentencing, considering that current court hearings are often not decided by the judge, or are interfered with by administrative forces,' Mr Pu said.
But Peking University law professor He Weifang said recruiting lawyers was unlikely to bring significant change to the court system because 'the current judicial environment will not attract the most talented lawyers and professionals'.
'A judge's ideal is to be able to really direct the judicial process, conduct independent analysis and judgment on a case, and write a verdict fully reflecting his legal abilities and inspirations in a personal style. The current judicial system cannot bear this yet,' Professor He said.