If anything ought to convince Beijing of the urgency of pursuing justice reforms, it is public scepticism about the administration of the law. This sentiment is finding increasing expression in internet forums. Without respect for the law, the official goal of stability and harmony will be harder to achieve. Internet postings lamenting injustice and corruption are a running commentary on crime and punishment on the mainland. Some of the latest express dismay with the verdict in the infamous case referred to as 'My father is Li Gang '. Now a catchphrase for social injustice, these were the words of Li Qiming, son of a deputy police chief in Baoding , Hebei Province, in challenging witnesses to take him to court after a hit-and-run killing of a female student. The storm this whipped up on the internet had its sequel in court last week. After pleading guilty to drink-driving and running over two students, he received six years' jail - one less than the maximum. But the outcome represented a compromise between official interference and the weight of public opinion. The dead girl's family was pressured by the authorities to accept 460,000 yuan (HK$543,000) in compensation from Li's father, and in return Li was spared the more serious charge of endangering public safety, which carries a sentence of from 10 years to life. Indeed, the court cited the payment as a reason for leniency. The internet campaign for justice is credited with persuading the authorities not to risk antagonising the public with an even lighter sentence. The uproar over Li's conduct made the tragedy a case study of the mainland's justice system. The result speaks for itself. There was no evidence of a serious effort to allow justice to be seen to be done by an independent prosecution and judiciary, or to show that Li was equal before the law with ordinary people. Despite the intense and legitimate public interest, the media was excluded. But then this is a system where people without legal training can be appointed to high posts and where the chief justice of the Supreme People's Court has urged them to prioritise the causes of the party, the interests of the people and the constitution and laws in that order. To be sure, the party has trumpeted improvements to address some egregious examples of legal and administrative injustice, and abuse of people's rights and due process. But while the party and the government are seen to be above the law, the people's constitutional rights cannot be assured. Sweeping, meaningful reforms cannot be introduced overnight, but that is all the more reason for a sense of urgency about recognising the need for them and making a start. Taking a cue from the Li case, they could begin with more transparency. The source of the 460,000 yuan remains unclear. That is not to question Li Gang's sincerity when he appeared on television to apologise for his son and shoulder some of the blame as a parent. But the payment follows the revelation that China spends more than 500 billion yuan a year on 'ensuring social stability'. Some of this money goes to settle grievances, which protects reputations rather than resolving injustices. The communications revolution has helped show that even hard cash can only paper over cracks in the social fabric. If the party sees instability and disharmony as a threat to its political legitimacy, it could devote some of that money to developing remedies to root causes, such as the weakness of the rule of law and encouraging an independent judiciary.