Lower-level courts face bankruptcy when fees are slashed
Chow Chung-yan and Josephine Ma in Beijing
Many lower-level courts may be bankrupted when a regulation halving court fees comes into effect next month, deputies to the National People's Congress warn.
The State Council last year announced a rule to cut the fees in half from April 1 in an attempt to encourage poor people to settle disputes within the legal system.
But delegates yesterday warned that the rule could prove counterproductive because it would bring many courts, particularly those in inland regions, to the brink of bankruptcy.
At present, about half the operating funds of local courts are derived from fees, with the other half paid by local governments. Subsidies from higher level administrations only account for a small fraction of the courts' income.
The deputies fear local authorities in the west and central provinces will have trouble paying the shortfall under the new rule.
'Some courts could lose as much as 70 per cent of their income. In underdeveloped regions, a court's operating fund is often directly proportional to the court fees they receive. If the fees are reduced drastically, it will definitely affect their work,' said Wang Limin , an NPC delegate from Anhui province .
Another Anhui delegate, Yu Dena , feared her community's court would be severely disrupted and said local government had no money.
'Our court receives about 600,000 yuan every year in court fees. Its operating budget is also about 600,000 yuan. Once the regulation takes place, our court will need to find 300,000 yuan to meet the shortfall. But the budget for our local government is very limited,' she said.
Wang Xiaojin , also from Anhui, said the lack of financial support would not only affect operations, but also lead to corruption.
'Our nation has undergone rapid economic development. Why can't we provide enough funds for our courts and procuratorates? If the courts don't even have enough operating funds, how can we uphold justice? How can we raise efficiency and fight corruption,' he said at a group discussion panel.
Gong Pixiang , president of the Jiangsu High People's Court, said courts in his province would face a huge funding shortfall under the new rule.
Income from fees would drop by 41 per cent for the high court, 55 per cent for intermediate courts and 25 to 73 per cent for low-level courts, Mr Gong said at a Jiangsu delegation panel meeting.
Mr Gong and other delegates urged the Supreme People's Court to talk to the Ministry of Finance about meeting the shortfall of funds, especially for courts in poor areas.
Supreme court president Xiao Yang pledged in his work report that more support would be given to local courts.
'Most middle-to-low level courts in coastal regions are severely understaffed, while those in inland regions lack funding,' Mr Xiao said.
He said the supreme court would take 'effective measures' to solve these problems, but did not elaborate.