China’s getting a new law to fight corruption, but there’s still no place for lawyers

Xi Jinping promises to do away with interrogation techniques but suspects will still be denied representation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 11:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 11:42pm

General Secretary Xi Jinping on Wednesday promised to replace a controversial interrogation method used by China’s Communist Party with a new system that would be answerable under the law.

“A national supervision law will be formulated,” he said during his 3½-hour presentation of the party’s five-yearly work report at the opening session of the 19th national congress in Beijing.

“Supervisory commissions will be given responsibilities, powers and means of investigation in accordance with the law [and] the practice of shuanggui will be replaced by detention.”

Under the current shuanggui system, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has the power to summon and detain without charge any member it suspects of being in breach of party rules and regulations.

In his speech, Xi said corruption was “what the people resent most” and described it as the party’s “greatest threat”.

Beijing would remain committed to its policy of “zero tolerance on corruption” for the next five years, he said, adding that corruption suspects would be pursued regardless of where they chose to hide.

“Wherever offenders may flee, they will be brought back and brought to justice,” he said.

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Only by ensuring clean governance, could the party avoid “the historical cycle of rise and fall”, he said.

To that end, a new central leading group, under Xi’s direct supervision, would be established to oversee law-based governance, he said, adding that its purpose would be to strengthen the party’s leading role in China’s legal reform and help Beijing to ensure compliance with the constitution.

Xi has set up and chaired several leadership steering groups over the past five years in areas he holds in high regard, such as cybersecurity and military reform.

In his speech, the president said that the new super body would have jurisdiction over all public sector bodies. State media said earlier that the supervision law would apply to everyone in public service, including judges, lawyers and university lecturers.

By comparison, the CCDI has authority only over members of the Communist Party.

Under Xi’s leading group, and running parallel to the CCDI will be the new National Supervision Committee, a body that has been in the offing for some time and whose establishment is expected to be approved at the annual legislative sessions in March next year.

Legislators will also decide exactly how the committee will operate and who its members will be, according to the disciplinary watchdog’s annual report published in January.

The report said, however, that the committee would consolidate several government and prosecutorial anti-corruption departments currently within the CCDI.

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While Xi spoke on Wednesday of the desire to ensure that corruption was dealt with under the law, people suspected of graft will still not be allowed legal representation during investigations by the National Supervision Committee. This has already been shown to be the case in trial programmes run on a provincial level earlier in the year.

Lawyers and legal scholars have criticised the arrangement, saying that without the presence of proper representation investigations and interrogations remained open to abuse.

They have also pointed to the fact that the idea for the National Supervision Committee was born out of efforts to introduce the rule by law in China.

Just weeks after coming to power in late 2012, Xi launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign. Thousands of officials have since been punished, though critics have accused Xi of using it primarily to take down his own political opponents.

During his speech on Wednesday, Xi pledged to eliminate “interest groups within the party” and said that fighting corruption was part of a broader plan to impose a more strict party rule.