A welcome step in legal reform in China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 3:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 3:34am

An egregious example of the ends justifying the means is to be found in the mainland's criminal justice system - but hopefully not for much longer under guidelines issued by the top court. "Extracting confessions through torture - such as the use of cold, hunger, scorching, fatigue and other illegal methods to obtain confessions from accused - must be weeded out," they say. The guidelines follow a pledge by the Central Committee third plenum to carry out legal reforms, including reducing false charges, which reflects calls by President Xi Jinping to uphold the constitution and the rule of law.

They also say cases must be decided by judges without interference by local governments, police and prosecution bodies. Supreme People's Court judge Lu Guanglun said some suspects were being presumed guilty, rather than innocent until proven guilty.

Rights advocates welcome the guidelines but have doubts about implementation because, without fundamental restructuring to ensure legal independence, the courts remain a weaker institution than the police or procuratorate. Still, they are an important incremental step towards radical reform that cannot be achieved overnight. Another is a pledge by Supreme People's Court president Zhou Qiang to let more light into the judicial process, beginning with the posting of judgments online by 3,000 provincial and lower-level courts.

The professionalism and independence of the judiciary are fundamental to the rule of law and upholding of the constitution. The central government must purge the system of corrupt officials and reduce rampant interference by local authorities. The plenum document pointed the way ahead through a separation of judicial jurisdiction from the administrative system which currently influences appointments and pays salaries. This means lower courts would report ultimately to the top court. That would pave the way for safeguarding the judicial system from perversion with local political and business connections and protectionism.