Top Chinese court posts its rulings online

Move seen as showing that the legal systemis becoming more open, but critics say the disclosures are too selective to have real effect

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 5:21am

The Supreme People's Court has started posting its judgments online, allowing the public to access most of its verdicts - including its review of the death sentence.

The court recently posted its first batch of judgments on a new official website, including the original texts of verdicts in three death row cases.

The most high-profile case was the verdict on Li Xingong, a former Communist Party official who was executed at the end of last month for raping 11 girls in Henan province.

The top court said in 2010 that the judgments could be released online, with the exception of those concerning state and commercial secrets, but lawyers said neither the top court nor local courts followed the suggestion as it was not mandatory.

Legal experts say the move is a positive turn in the country's criminal justice system, showing the top court is becoming more open about its often-secretive workings when making its rulings.

Ma Huaide, the vice-president of China Political Science and Law, said the online postings would help promote an independent and transparent judiciary, with the public having a more effective role in keeping an eye on verdicts.

"Traditionally the public has very limited access to the full documents of judgments, which has also led many to question the justice of the rulings and, as a result, damaged the credibility of the court system," Ma said.

But some lawyers remain sceptical about the effects of the new measure.

"The disclosure of judgments is still highly selective," said lawyer Zhou Ze. "The court should provide explanations for the cases that it cannot display publicly to further boost transparency in the judicial system."

Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said it was unsatisfactory that the new website carried only judgments made by the supreme court. Local courts should also upload their judgments since they had been the fundamental obstacle to an open judicial system.

"The problem is that some local courts' verdicts are actually made by officials, not judges," Liu said.

The supreme court's work report presented at the National People's Congress in March received the strongest opposition in at least six years, with more than 600 negative votes showing delegates were not satisfied.

President Xi Jinping has repeatedly promised the government would improve the credibility of legal affairs and strengthen the legal system.

Xinhua quoted an unnamed court official as saying judges could learn from the posted judgments and that it was "conducive to both guaranteeing people's rights to be informed and reinforcing judicial supervision". Most personal information mentioned in judgments would be excluded, the official said.