Beijing must reform mainland's flawed and unfair legal system

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 April, 2010, 12:00am

The economic progress of China has amazed the world. In contrast, the international community has been dismayed by the judicial process on the mainland.

As law professor Jerome Cohen and Taiwan lawyer Yu-Jie Chen pointed out ('Law unto itself', April 1), its 'domestic legal system' is harming its image globally.

It is ignoring obligations made through the United Nations and in conventions with other countries. Beijing should be ensuring a judicial process which is fair, open and equal with all defendants being entitled to legal representation.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said before the start of the Rio Tinto trial that the world was watching China. What he meant was that the trial must be conducted in a fair and open manner and that the defendants must have full access to their lawyers.

After the trial was over, he said China had missed an opportunity by conducting [some of] the case behind closed doors. Beijing replies to such criticism from abroad by talking about interference in judicial sovereignty.

Why were some of the powerful individuals and companies involved in this case not summoned to appear in court? Also, victims of the tainted milk scandal were not allowed to attend the trials of those responsible.

There are now fears of, in some cases, kangaroo courts with open and shut cases. Critics talk of justice Chinese-style, where the outcomes are the ones that officials want.

Defendants do not get a full opportunity to defend themselves and cannot always choose their legal representation. Diplomats from other countries have been barred from some cases. This is what happened in the Rio Tinto case.

Often, people involved in forms of corruption, including bribery, are able to act with impunity and do not see the inside of a courtroom.

Those individuals who are arrested and found guilty of corruption face heavy jail sentences or even execution. This is not the way to fight such crimes.

In other countries, when a foreign national is on trial, the case is generally treated in a sensitive manner but, on the mainland, they do not seem to care.

This may lead to some expatriates deciding they do not want to work on the mainland.

For a country to make genuine economic progress, it must have an honest police force, respect for the rule of law and an independent and transparent judiciary.

On the mainland, real political, legal and administrative reforms are needed.

Corruption cannot be fought by harsh punishments which are often meted out in an unjust manner.

A.L. Nanik, Tsim Sha Tsui