China’s courts must be seen to be seats of justice and fairness

Recent case of a lawyer allegedly beaten by police in court does nothing to improve perceptions of the rule of law in the mainland

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 June, 2016, 12:40am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 June, 2016, 12:40am

Legend has it that whoever sought redress in the courts of ancient China risked being spanked by the judge even before the case would be heard. True or not, it was probably just a way to deter frivolous lawsuits from being brought forward in those days. Thankfully, the country has since moved on.

That said, the current judicial system on the mainland still has much room for improvement, as reflected in a recent case in which a man was allegedly beaten up by court policemen in front of two judges in a district court in Nanning.

What makes it look even more bizarre is that the victim is a lawyer, who was trying to file a case for a client involved in a contractual dispute. According to reports, Wu Liangshu allegedly got into a brawl with court officers after he had been accused of using his mobile phone to record the arguments over the court’s decision to reject the lawsuit. He also had refused to hand over his phone for examination, reports said. The incident took place in the presence of two judges, who apparently did not intervene.

Whatever the circumstances, the use of violence is unacceptable, even more so when it took place during the administration of justice. The courtroom is the venue for seeking redress. Ironically, it became a crime scene, with judges and law enforcers becoming the subjects of investigation. Wu left the court with his shirt torn open and a trouser leg ripped away revealing his underpants. The local government later said the court should apologise to Wu, but maintained that there was no “intentional harm or physical assault”.

Trousergate: Chinese lawyer left half naked after police ripped his clothes in court rejects official apology

The joint statement by some 1,000 mainland lawyers condemning the assault speaks volumes about the anger simmering among legal professionals. Despite ongoing efforts to improve the judicial system, lawyers are still not treated with the respect they deserve. Those helping individuals to take on the government are sometimes regarded as troublemakers or enemies. Some even become the target of harassment and legal sanctions.

Some criticised Wu for resorting to the social media, saying the move unnecessarily stirred distrust between lawyers and the judiciary. But critics fail to appreciate that the role of lawyers is to ensure that their clients will be treated fairly under the law. This is as much the fundamental right of an individual as the spirit of the rule of law. Governing according to the law is a solemn pledge made by President Xi Jinping. Reassuring as it sounds, concrete actions have to follow. The way lawyers have been treated does nothing to improve the perception of the mainland judicial system.