When it comes to justice, China still leaves a lot to be desired

Reforms to the judicial system are essential if the country is to truly take its place as a world power

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 12:24am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 12:24am

Despite being a global power, China is still seen as falling short of international standards in some respects. The judicial system stands out as one badly in need of reform. Practices and arrangements deemed unacceptable elsewhere are still common on the mainland, such as making the accused confess to wrongdoing in news broadcasts ahead of a formal trial. Lawyers defending citizens’ civil rights end up in jail. Judges are sometimes subject to violence for the rulings they make.

Thankfully, there are now plans to offer better protection for judges. In a belated but positive step forward, the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission is planning to issue a directive aimed at protecting the personal safety of those responsible for the administration of justice. Police protection will be offered to judges, prosecutors and their families if they face retaliation for the job they are doing, according to state media reports.

The move came after a judge in a Beijing district court was gunned down by two men angered by his decisions in recent divorce cases. Separately, a judge presiding over a divorce case in Henan (河南 ) province was critically wounded at the court entrance in February last year. The worst case happened five years ago, when a man involved in a housing dispute in Hunan (湖南 ) killed three judges and wounded three others. The attacks, while isolated and inexcusable, reflect common concern over whether the judges were ruling impartially.

Equally worthy of concern is the increasingly common trend of public confessions before trials. It is unclear why anyone accused of breaking the law would first demand an opportunity to admit guilt in front of television cameras. The suspects are usually involved in sensitive or high-profile cases. There are suggestions that they have been coerced into confessing on state media in return for parole or lighter sentences. Whatever the purpose, the practice goes against one’s fundamental right to a fair trial and does nothing to enhance confidence in the judicial system. Authorities should heed calls from the national lawyers’ association to stop the staged confessions on television. A fair judicial system is fundamental in any society.

There appears to be a strong will to improve the administration of justice, as reflected by state leaders’ repeated emphasis on the need for reforms. More importantly, words should be matched with actions.