Top court gives order to speed up petition cases

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 May, 2010, 12:00am

The mainland's top court has ordered judges around the country to speed up handling petition complaints and applications for retrial that involve lawsuits against the government, especially cases in which petitioners tried to seek redress in Beijing and provincial capitals.

A campaign lasting until the end of the year will focus on identifying these cases and aim to 'reduce the number of such cases dramatically within a relatively short period', Supreme People's Court deputy chief Jiang Bixin told a national courts work meeting in Guangdong on Saturday, Xinhua reported.

By the end of next month, all provincial high courts must submit a list of such cases to the Supreme Court, the order stated.

As Xinhua noted, the courts are crucial to resolving conflicts between the people and the government, but too often the failure of the courts to do so has led to aggravated conflicts.

Social conflicts are increasingly manifesting themselves in the forms of riots and, more disturbingly, violence such as the five random attacks at kindergartens nationwide within the past two months.

Since the end of last year, the country's legal institutions have been hailing 'The Three Work Focuses', which stands for 'the resolution of social conflicts, the renovation of society management, and fair and clean law enforcement'.

The Supreme Court has since launched two other campaigns: 'the clearance of court-related petition cases' - targeting petition cases in which the subject of complaint is actually a court judgment - and the comprehensive 'million case assessment'.

The decision to single out cases that involve lawsuits against the government further highlights the particular difficulty residents face when trying to sue the government over what they consider bad decisions. Often the courts are wary of upsetting local governments, which set the courts' budgets each year.

The success rate of such administrative lawsuits is extremely low. According to the Legal Daily, a 35 per cent success rate in an intermediate court in Henan was already hailed as miraculous. By contrast, no more than 10 administrative cases a year were actually heard in some county and intermediate courts in the western regions.

Courts around the country must focus on resisting and removing 'local policies' that were put in place to hinder people's rights to sue the government, Jiang said. For example, a local government might set an unnecessary barrier for a court to accept such lawsuits, or require the plaintiff to agree to enter settlement negotiations before a court is allowed to accept the lawsuit.

The courts should use measures such as bringing the case to the court one level above, or transfer it to a court in a different location to protect the plaintiff's rights, he said.

He further said courts must guard against local governments using the excuse of 'stability' or 'overall situation' to control judicial decisions. Also, courts should discard deep-seated beliefs that 'it is stirring trouble by saying that the government is wrong', or 'admitting that a previous judgment is wrong would threaten judicial authority'.

However, Jiang also added that for cases that involve political, policy- related, sensitive or historical issues and cannot be resolved through administrative lawsuits, the courts should pragmatically seek help from Communist Party committees, the People's Congresses and the government'.

Deaf ear

The number of administrative cases a year that were heard in some courts in the west was no more than: 10