This week, Chinese authorities pledged to reform, improve and develop its legal system and ensure better rights’ protection to its citizens.
However, critics say that the very nature of China’s authoritarian system continues to be an obstacle in the country’s development of an effective rule of law.
The government report on judicial reform, released weeks before Beijing’s major political reshuffle, says China has been striving to improve its judicial system, expand judicial democracy, and promote openness and impartiality.
It promises the measures “provide a solid judicial guarantee for China’s economic development, social harmony and national stability.”
Li Zhuang, a well-known Beijing lawyer praised the document on his microblog.
“If the judiciary authorities take the lead in implementing it seriously in the whole country, then it will be a great fortune for the people,” he wrote.
Li famously spent 18 months in prison, charged with coercing false testimony after attempting to represent a mafia boss in Chongqing. At the time, many commentators pointed at his case as an example of how courts fail to protect the rights of lawyers.
Wang Cailiang, a lawyer from the All China Lawyers Association, says that though the paper’s general emphasis on social fairness and justice is a good change of approach in China, attention must be paid to how laws will be implemented.
“We can’t just look at what they say,” Wang said. “We need to look at what they will do and how they will do it.”
Wang, who specializes in representing villagers whose land is being sized by developers without proper compensation, says that the white paper fails to address the core issue of judiciary independence.
“For the courts and the procurator and the judicial authorities to stand up independently, they need to break away from their relation of dependency with the government,” he said. “Otherwise, any talk of a just and fair judiciary is fruitless.”
Wang says that in his line of work, citizens’ rights and interests are often trampled upon because of the governmental interference with the courts’ work.
Land grabs have become one of the most bitter sources of discontent among Chinese people. Local governments, whose budgets have become deeply reliant on land sales, have a strong incentive to profit from land transactions and often steer courts away from properly compensating villagers.
“The government, which should be the referee, becomes a player and takes away the interests of the people,” he added.
China’s new leadership, which will be appointed next month during the Communist Party’s 18th congress and is expected to rule the country for the next 10 years, will inherit the challenge of legal reform.
“Regardless of whether its the leaders of the 18th party congress, or the Chinese public, everyone hopes for a just and fair society,” Wang said. “Nobody wants this society to collapse and fall apart.”