'Social stability should be key in demolition cases'
The country's top court has stressed the need to consider potential impacts on social stability before demolition requests are granted.
The Supreme People's Court issued guidelines yesterday on how courts should approach cases where the government applies for compulsory demolition orders, following the introduction of new demolition regulations in January last year that stripped government departments of the final say on demolition cases.
Under the regulations, local governments can apply for a compulsory demolition order from the courts in instances where there are still residents who refuse to move after officials have taken all legal steps to negotiate a deal. These include persuading at least 51 per cent of residents to agree to a compensation deal, and, if that fails, holding a public consultation with residents.
The guidelines issued yesterday echoed those regulations, in requesting that local governments provide a social stability assessment along with other materials that must be submitted.
Commenting on the new guidelines, Professor Jiang Mingan, who specialises in administrative law at Peking University, said: 'We are going through a peak period of social conflicts, and ... demolition is one of the main sources. The guidelines are an improvement in providing more details and allowing the courts to use these details as tools to resist political interference.'
Besides listing the documents required to apply for such a demolition order, the guidelines list seven specific scenarios in which a court might refuse a request. These include absence of physical or legal grounds for a demolition, instances where compensation offered is unfair and instances where legal procedures haven't been followed.
Administrative law professors also underscored another significant aspect to the guidelines. 'The guidelines finally make it clear that the court is only responsible for ... making the decision. The government remains in charge of [the actual] demolition,' said Professor Wang Xixin, also of Peking University.
Prior to the regulations being passed last year, the courts were not involved in making demolition decisions. They were handed the final say, according to analysts, because of the number of mass incidents in recent years stemming from illegal demolition, often the result of corrupt deals between local government officials and property developers.
'However, while the public trusts the courts more than the government, the truth is that the courts are vulnerable to influence from authorities too,' Jiang said. 'And when a court approved a demolition order in the morning, then carried out the demolition in the afternoon, this was very bad for the image of the courts.
'Also, if there were problems in the demolition process, who could the public sue?'
The new guidelines further state that an evictee can sue if he is unhappy with a demolition order or with the compensation deal; if he regrets signing a compensation deal; or if the demolition is carried out contrary to legal procedures.
When last year's regulations were being drafted, both Wang and Jiang urged the authorities to allow for the halting of a demolition, should 90 per cent of the residents oppose the plan. The right to hold a public consultation when more than half of the residents disagree is viewed as a compromise.