Shanghai judges' jolly with prostitutes provokes noisy chorus of media criticism

The sacking of four judges tells us much about the mainland's legal system and perverse incentives to gain promotion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 August, 2013, 8:17am

Four judges from Shanghai's high court dined with building contractors one Sunday evening in June. They then went to a night club, sang karaoke, drank alcohol and then trooped off to visit prostitutes. They were caught on tape and exposed online by a mysterious whistle-blower on August 2.

By Tuesday, they had all been sacked.

The judges had "split values", the Guangming Daily pronounced, noting that mainland law was clear on the prohibition of prostitution, so the judges knew what they were doing was illegal.

If the judges had come face-to-face with the prostitutes in court, "they probably would have put on a stern face and unleashed harsh words", the commentary read. "But in private, they accepted their services happily."

It was "probably not the result of an accidentally slip-up, but from a belief deep down that this type of thing is normal", the piece added.

And the fact that the judges misbehaved together showed the dirty modus operandi prevalent among officialdom.

"Doing 100 good things for a boss is less effective than doing one bad thing with a boss," the writer said, explaining that often such "bad" behaviour helped create a bond with the boss that was stronger than rules of administrative hierarchy and could help with getting promoted. It encouraged officials to stick together, taking bribes together, commiting crimes together and helping each other fight anti-graft investigations.

The Guangzhou Daily said state leaders had repeatedly warned officials to avoid such behaviour, but that the Shanghai judges obviously hadn't been listening or simply hadn't cared. They did it because they felt safe, the writer said.

"Some people obviously know they are misbehaving, but their colleagues all do it and encourage them to do the same.

"Believing that punishment will not be imposed on the majority, they go further and become more daring. Some even think that immoral lifestyles have become mainstream, and that all of society is as corrupt as their small circles."

The Beijing News said authorities should not simply sack the four judges, as there are obvious signs of crimes that should be probed further.

Two of the judges were internal auditors of the court, which raised questions over who is watching the watchdogs. The paper said auditors and the audited should stay separate, like "rats and snakes", but that the judges were clearly doing dirty deeds together in comfort and security, "so what is the purpose of internal auditing?"

Chinese courts must allow for more transparency when it comes monitoring judges, or the issue of corruption wouldn't be effectively addressed, the paper's commentary said.

Both People's Daily and Xinhua said the scandal would tarnish the public's perception of the legal system and present a challenge to its authority.

"The respect granted to legal verdicts depends on the public's confidence in the integrity and independence of judges," People's Daily said. "When judges break laws, it has a worse impact than when others do."

And Xinhua said the scandal posed a threat to the broader establishment of the rule of law on the mainland.

State media urged legal authorities to take stronger disciplinary measures to restore public faith in the legal system.

The Jiefang Daily, the party mouthpiece of Shanghai, said the incident had tarnished not only the legal system but the reputations of all public servants and party members in the city.

The paper also said all Communist Party members and civil servants in Shanghai should learn from the case and not succumb to the temptation of immoral or illegal behaviour.

"Corruption erodes the flesh and bones of the party," the Jiefang Daily commentary said. "It is one of the biggest long-term threats to a party in power."