December 2, 2005
Written by C.N.
It’s no secret that China’s political leaders rule the country with an iron first and that there are no areas of Chinese life that is not directly or indirectly controlled by the communist government. However, as the New York Times reports, that may be starting to change, as a group of legal reformers aim to push China into developing an independent judiciary system, one of the basic foundations of a democratic society:
Faced with the complex demands of governing a chaotic, modernizing country, China’s leaders have embraced the rule of law as the most efficient means of regulating society. But a central requirement in fulfilling that promise lies unresolved – whether the governing Communist Party intends to allow an independent judiciary.
Today, China’s court system is far from an independent entity that can curb government power. Often, the courts remain a pliable tool to reinforce that power. Many judges are poorly educated in the law and corrupt. Judges often must answer to government officials as much as to the law. Political pressure is common, and private trial committees often dictate rulings.
There are also signs of change. One of the busiest courts in Beijing announced in November that it would stop punishing judges if a ruling was later deemed politically or legally “wrong.” A budding idealism about the law, and its potential to transform Chinese society, is evident not only in the number of new lawyers but also in the emerging civic belief that ordinary people have “legal rights.”
The 2003 ruling by Judge Li [where she declared a provincial law invalid] has become, quite unexpectedly, a landmark case for the evolving Chinese legal system. Her plight exposed the limits on judicial autonomy in China and the political retribution faced by judges. But it also revealed the rising influence of legal reformers. Scholars and lawyers rallied to Judge Li’s defense and embraced her ruling as a test case, if an accidental one, for a more autonomous court system.
If nothing else, this discussion about even the possibility of an independent judiciary in China is a step forward for a regime that is notorious for being repressive and totalitarian. But with all other “possibilities,” actions will speak louder than words.
In the past, we’ve seen how hardline political leaders can react when faced with a burgeoning democracy movement. Will the same reactionary response happen again as China creeps along on the road toward being more transparent and allowing more democracy every so slightly? Stay tuned . . .
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "China’s First Steps Toward a Fair Judiciary?" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/12/chinas-first-steps-toward-a-fair-judiciary/> ().
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