Top court to hear petitions on rulings

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 September, 2009, 12:00am

A chink of light this week greeted petitioners - the desperate thousands who defy police and party to reach administrative centres and ultimately Beijing to get perceived wrongs righted. The Supreme People's Court announced it would hear petition cases concerning wrongful or unfair court judgments.

Academic experts on the law and petitioning are unsure whether the development is a breakthrough for petitioners. But one said it might encourage some to resort to the legal system, rather than petitioning, to get their case heard.

The central government has introduced various measures to ease the overburdened petitioning system. Police and officials are regularly accused of abusing the rights of petitioners - often as they try to stop them lodging their petition in Beijing - and there have been several mass protests by petitioners.

Just last month, Beijing announced that representatives of the Communist Party's Central Political and Legislative Committee would go to the provinces to address petitioners' court-related grievances.

The top court announced on Wednesday that it would create a special 'acceptance court' to decide whether or not complaints against court judgments and 'court-related petition cases' would be taken up by judges. The latter category for court cases is new.

Another acceptance court will handle applications for retrials.

Professor Yu Jianrong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an expert on the petitioning system, said the announcement would not make a big difference because the court already had a branch that hears complaints about court judgments, which may or may not lead to retrials.

'It is a misnomer to call these court-related petition cases. The petitioning system is a completely separate system from the judicial system,' said Yu, who believes the government should reduce the role of petitioning and guide people towards using the courts.

Retrials are rare on the mainland. They may be sought if there was an error in the court's application of the law or if new evidence has emerged. However, Xinhua reported that since amendments to the Civil Procedure Law in April extended the scope for retrials and made the procedure more user-friendly, applications to the top court for retrials had tripled.

Jiang Mingan , a professor of administrative law at Peking University, was also not too sure about the meaning of 'court-related petition cases' and how these would differ from an application for retrial because of a wrongful or unfair judgment. But the specific listing of such a category might encourage petitioners to resort to the courts instead of the petition system.

Petitioning is unique to China and goes back centuries to the days when the common people found stopping the emperor's sedan chair - at the risk of being executed on the spot - and making their grievance known was the only way to obtain justice. It survives to this day because people find they cannot rely on a legal system that is still not very efficient and is at times as corrupt as the local officials whose actions they are challenging.

Many of their complaints would be dealt with through litigation or judicial reviews in other countries.