Chinese government must ensure that justice is not corrupted

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 July, 2015, 12:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 July, 2015, 10:30am

These are confusing times for the rule of law on the mainland. The anti-corruption drive has reached the country's leading court with the investigation of a top judge, yet, at the same time, hundreds of civil rights lawyers have been detained and harassed in an unprecedented crackdown. Upholding the law and ensuring that justice is properly served is the government's stated objective and it has certainly been showing resolve to move in that direction. Hounding those who try to help people assert their rights and seek justice on the pretext that they are "troublemakers", as they have been labelled by officials, does not mesh with such an aim.

A number of the lawyers were from the high-profile Beijing law firm Fengrui, which was among three companies raided by police. The Ministry of Public Security launched the operation against a group it accused of "illegally organising paid protests, hyping public sentiment and fabricating rumours on the internet to sway court decisions". The flouting of laws by officials and pre-determined outcomes of court cases has led lawyers and human rights advocates to resort to online campaigns to seek justice for clients. Until reforms take hold and there is a truly independent judiciary, it is a sensible way to ensure that rights are upheld.

Many of those detained have been released, but more than a dozen remain in custody and a similar number under house arrest. Lawyers are not troublemakers; like judges, they are a vital part of ensuring the rule of law.

But such action is in stark contrast to the investigation into Xi Xiaoming, a vice-president of the Supreme People's Court. The matter centres on alleged interference in a case involving a tycoon in Shanxi province with whom he is believed to have close ties. It is a good place for the anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, to begin a thorough sweep of the judiciary to ensure that it is clean.

Graft is rife in the judicial system as elsewhere in society, so it is no surprise that the institution is now being targeted. But there is more reason that wrongdoing in it be rooted out and eliminated than anywhere else. A just and fair judiciary is the last line of defence for the rights and interests of citizens. But defending the rights of people who have been accused of crimes is as important as the fairness of judges. Lawyers have to be free to properly do the job of ensuring laws are adhered to, authorities are held accountable and people can seek justice.