New procedures for handling of petitions issued
The Supreme People's Court has issued new measures for the handling of court-related petitions, stressing the need to resolve grievances at the earliest opportunity as social discontent grows over issues from corruption to pollution.
Strictly speaking, the petitions referred to are complaints about court actions - such as an unsatisfactory implementation of a judgment or a court's refusal to accept a case. But as social discontent grows, the courts have also become a target for public anger at what they see as unfair government decisions.
'Handling court-related petitions is an important element of a court's work, and is also an important aspect of the court's role in social management ... and an important route for courts to safeguard social stability,' an unnamed supreme court official was quoted as saying in yesterday's People's Courts Daily.
The court issued the first guideline in December, setting down a procedure to cover the situation in which the provincial high courts and the Supreme People's Court can rule that a petitioner's complaint has been dealt with properly.
According to the report, the court issued four further guidelines in April, announcing four other procedures to build a 'sustainable system'.
The first is a risk assessment procedure, requesting all courts to assess at each stage whether a case might give rise to a petition, and act to resolve that risk.
The second requires courts to inform the Supreme People's Court of their petition situation.
The third sets down a system for judges who cannot give an instant decision to a petitioner. The judge must agree to meet the petitioner on a set date, and the petitioner must agree not to return until that day.
The fourth requires the use of a 'mediation' approach, including the use of legal aid, psychological consultation, a special social-assistance fund, as well as the government's apparatus to maintain public order.
The petition system is highly controversial. Some mainland socio-legal experts say it weakens judicial authority. Others say it is prone to human rights abuses, as officials use illegal means to stop petitioners being heard, including abductions and the use of so-called 'black jails'.
Dr Chen Hangping, of the University of International Business and Economics, said the new guidelines did not address the core problem.
'These new measures will give the court more power to use other government resources to handle petitions, but the root causes of many of these petitions still lie with other government departments,' Chen said. 'These measures show a growing reliance on the courts to resolve social conflicts, but these are problems the courts cannot resolve alone.'
Professor Xie Ming, of Renmin University, said authorities should focus on how to deal with petitioners with care and patience.
'We have spent so much money on curbing petitions, but it hasn't been very effective. We should change our way of thinking.'