Legal experts hold out hope for rule of law

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 July, 2011, 12:00am


Following Lai Changxing's return to Chinese soil from Canada yesterday, the focus now turns to what legal proceedings the fugitive is going to face.

For a start, Lai, 53, was arrested at Beijing airport upon arrival, although charges have not been announced.

Some foreign experts on Chinese law worry he will not get a fair trial, since the Chinese government often abuses the criminal system. Nevertheless, Chinese legal professionals harbour hopes that the police and judiciary will use Lai's case to demonstrate the country's capability to uphold the rule of law.

'With global attention on this case, the judiciary should pay particular attention to the protection of defendants and observe the humanitarian spirit as stipulated in our criminal law and criminal procedure law,' said Huang Feng, a Beijing Normal University professor who specialises in international criminal law.

Huang stressed that speculation on whether Lai would face the death penalty was irrelevant, since, subject to the latest amendments to the Criminal Law in May, smuggling was no longer punishable by death.

Criminal procedure law professor Chen Guangzhong of the Chinese University of Political Science and Law said Lai was likely to face at least two charges - smuggling and offering bribes. The first charge would be relatively straightforward, but the second one might be tricky.

Chen said the court should try its best to hold an open trial, and urged that all judicial steps, from interrogation of the defendant to lawyer access, be strictly observed. For example, Lai should be allowed to hire a lawyer immediately.

'While, in the past, the trials of many high-ranking corrupt officials have been held behind closed doors, our law stipulates that unless a case concerns state secrets it should be heard in an open trial,' he said.

It was unlikely that the case would be heard in a Xiamen court initially, since it involved too many local interests, he added.

Xiamen was the smuggling destination in a high-profile case in the late 1990s, in which Lai was the key character, involving more than 53 billion yuan worth of oil, cars, cigarettes and other goods. More than 300 people were prosecuted, including government officials such as the deputy chief of the Public Security Ministry.

Beijing has pledged not to execute Lai, to allow him access to a lawyer and to grant Canadian officials access to his criminal proceedings. On Thursday, a court in Ottawa decided on deportation, saying '[Lai] has been found not to be at risk if removed to China'. It said it trusted China would stick to its word for the sake of its 'honour and face', which Chinese legal professionals are betting on, too.