Beijing should make 'scientific defence' of compliant judiciary

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2010, 12:00am

Science is about recording observations and coming up with explanations about how things work (or don't work). In the case of human sciences, it can be about trying to compare and contrast particular behaviour, to see if one can find optimal solutions.

One supposition of political science is that one form of social structure may be better than another, at certain times. For example, in the modern world, we can assume most people would opt for a democratic society in preference to an autocratic society with slaves. It is in this spirit that I raise the following observations on recent news. In Britain, The Guardian, on January 15, reported on the response of the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the central government was involved in hacking attacks on Gmail accounts. A ministry spokeswoman said that Chinese law prohibited cyber attacks, including hacking. Presumably she said this with a straight face. One might add that the PRC Constitution guarantees, amongst many other things, freedom of speech. This is further proof, if it were needed, of the current so-called strength of the principle of the 'rule of law' on the mainland. One must also suppose the weakness of the central authorities in ensuring that the concept becomes a reality.

The party cannot guarantee equality before the law and everyone knows it. I was reminded also of an earlier story in the South China Morning Post ('Death of a tyrant', January 10) relating to the trial of a young man, Zhang Xuping, who killed a party secretary who, along with his family and other cronies, had been terrorising his locality for years.

The local people rose in defence of Zhang. But most significant were the words of the young man's mother, Wang Hou'e, who opined that the only thing that could save her son from the death penalty was the support of the several thousand people who had signed a petition asking for mercy, as they came from 'a humble household without the means to buy the favourable decision of a judge'.

In a month in which the highest judge in Hong Kong has confirmed the importance of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, these events on the mainland stand in stark contrast, and while the Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang was diplomatic in not directly criticising the flawed logic of others, who see the separation of powers as an obstacle to what they call stability, the rest of us need not be so subdued.

Indeed, it is important that these vital ingredients of any civilised society are celebrated and upheld - freedom of speech, the rule of law and an independent judiciary are the pillars of any truly ethical community. How the executive and legislative branches of government are composed is of relatively less significance.

I challenge the Chinese Communist Party to explain in detail how a government where the judiciary is effectively under the control of a single (often local) entity can avoid becoming tyrannical, and thus failing in its primary function - the creation and maintenance of a just society. Let us debate this issue and look at it 'scientifically'.

J. R. Fearon-Jones, Macau