Anhui Establishes Legal Review For Internal Government Directives

November 22, 2004

According to an article in the Beijing News, the Anhui provincial government has begun to require that the provincial Legal Affairs office review a range of government directives before they are promulgated. Individual ministries or administrative bodies issue these directives, which are called "red-hatted documents" (hongtou wenjian), about general policy implementation issues. These documents raise two sets of problems. First, the Administrative Litigation Law only permits citizens to challenge the legality of “concrete administrative acts,” or administrative decisions that affect them individually. They cannot challenge the legality of government regulations or policies themselves. Thus, citizens cannot challenge the general policy directives, even thought these directives often affect their rights. Second, individual ministries often issue these directives without reviewing applicable law or consulting with other government agencies. This practice often leads to contradictory or illegal regulations. According to a China Daily commentary published on November 16, a recent investigation of Anhui uncovered more than 110 unlawful provincial directives. The commentary argues that additional legal restraints are necessary to check unlawful local government acts. The author also notes favorably new proposals to amend the Administrative Litigation Law to give citizens the right to challenge the legality of local directives in court.