Courts in China are to be given powers from next month to rule on whether regulations issued by government departments are unlawful if they are sued by members of the public. The reforms will come into force from May 1, according to a statement from the Supreme People’s Court. The government said last year that the suggested changes to the law would make it easier for the public to sue government officials around the country for alleged injustices such as abuse of power and alleged illegal land seizures. China’s judiciary and legislature is controlled by the Communist Party, but the country’s top court announced plans last July to try to increase the independence of the courts to curb abuses of the legal system. Critics have suggested the reforms do not go deep enough, with party members still drafting the nation’s laws and filling the ranks of the judiciary. The regulations issued by the government locally and nationally are colloquially referred to as “red-head documents” as they usually bear the name of the government departments that issued them printed in a red letterhead. A committee of the national legislature approved the latest reforms in November last year. Li Guangyu, the deputy head of the Supreme People’s Court’s administrative division, said the greater legal oversight of government regulations was vital. “The red-head documents are large in number and can be used repeatedly against certain sections of the public,” he was quoted as saying by the China News Service. “If they ever break the law, the damage they bring is beyond comparison.” Li said the regulations could only be reviewed as part of more general legal actions brought by members of the public claiming government wrongdoing. Jia Qihua, a Beijing-based lawyer specialising in administrative litigation, said the reforms did not go far enough. “If the courts find regulations issued by local governments are problematic, it’s hard for them to actually do anything, despite the fact that they have been given the right to do so by law. “We have local courts that are subject to the leadership of the political and legal affairs committee of local party committees. If [citizens] sue local governments, local party committees will want to exert pressure on courts and intervene.” Jia said independent regional litigation courts should be set up to minimise political interference from local governments. “Another option is to achieve judicial independence, to let the judiciary break free from the leadership of the party,” he said.