On the right road towards the rule of law
The rule of law can play an important part in the mainland's future growth, prosperity and stability. Much needs to be done to put such a system in place but steps are being taken in the right direction. The inclusion in draft legislation of provisions to let lawyers become sole practitioners has the potential to enhance the framework already built.
The move in itself is no panacea for the nation's legal shortcomings. These are many and varied, the result of there being no legal system to speak of until the constitution came into effect in 1982. Although scores of worthy laws have since been framed and enacted, many are weak due to poor enforcement.
Under a proposed law, lawyers will be able to move out of the system of state-run practices and partnerships to start up on their own. Their rights will not be substantially enhanced - they will still be prone to intimidation by a judicial and law enforcement system that has not yet entirely learned the value of such representation.
The proposed legislation would allow lawyers with five years or more experience to set up on their own, if they wish. This should increase public access to legal representation and enhance the ability of courts to work effectively and fairly in resolving disputes.
The move also may encourage some lawyers to take on sensitive cases. Partnerships, the only way lawyers can presently work, are not always conducive to this; socially-conscious legal minds are often discouraged from taking on cases involving government officials or high-powered company executives. With the Communist Party still having the final say in all legal matters, its members are given an especially wide berth. Freed from such confines, lawyers will be more likely to take on complaints against those in powerful positions. This is essential if the mainland is to move towards judicial independence and respect for rights.
There is a long way to go before such a point is attained. But the draft law is a welcome effort to move closer to this goal.