Yangtze Briefing
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 4:29am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 4:40am

Shanghai judges not pleased with judicial reform

Court chiefs say move to cut their numbers by a third will only increase their case loads

 

Judges in Shanghai have given the cold shoulder to the much-hyped judicial reform plan that would cut their numbers by one-third, despite Beijing's offer to grant them a hefty pay rise and more authority in rulings.

The mainland's commercial hub was designated as one of the six provincial-level regions in early July to spearhead a five-year reform of the judicial system.

Three judges interviewed by the South China Morning Post, who spoke on condition of anonymity, shared the opinion that the reform proposal lacked proper planning and methods of execution.

Gong Zhenhua, a partner with Ronghe Law Firm, echoed the sentiment.

"The orientation of the reform is correct, but the execution plan needs to be carefully made," Gong said. "Slashing the headcount won't help the local team of judges improve their professionalism overnight."

A one-third cut in the number of judges could initially lead to a large backlog of cases

Under the plan, the number of judges in Shanghai would be cut by one-third from the current 3,700.

More than 1,200 would be removed from their jobs and demoted to "supporting judicial staff".

They would assist the remaining judges in reviewing legal documents and handling administrative duties. Young judges would likely bear the brunt of the job cuts due to their lack of experience.

Shanghai judges heard a total of 486,000 cases last year, or 131 each, up 8.3 per cent from a year earlier. The number of cases per judge is more than double the national average.

The judges interviewed argued that while the efforts to improve the overall calibre of the judicial system were worthwhile, the Supreme People's Court should slow its elimination of judges.

A one-third cut could initially lead to a large backlog of cases, they said.

The idea that justice delayed is justice denied could also further fuel public ire towards the courts.

Many expressed outrage after three judges and a discipline inspection official with the Shanghai High People's Court were filmed cavorting with prostitutes in a nightclub last August.

For decades, judges on the mainland have been regarded as government cadres, and there has been an increasing number of complaints about their professionalism and capabilities.

No details about the pay rise have been unveiled, but the judges were told it would be substantial. A Shanghai judge now earns about 100,000 yuan (HK$126,000) a year while some lawyers in private practice pocket more than 1 million yuan annually.

Without knowing the details, one judge expressed doubts about the proposed financial gain. "Since it's a five-year reform, technically, it could mean that we won't get higher pay until five years later," said an intermediate court judge. "Old judges can't afford a five-year wait because they will have retired by that time."

ren.wei@scmp.com

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