Chinese Authorities Consider Amendments to the Organic Law of People's Courts

December 6, 2004

According to an article carried in the Beijing News, the Chinese government is currently considering significant amendments to the PRC Organic Law of People's Courts. Draft amendments under consideration would return the power of death penalty review to the Supreme People's Court (SPC) and introduce explicit protections regarding judicial independence.

According to the article, the NPC placed reform of the Organic Law on its legislative calendar late last year. This summer, the SPC commissioned Beijing law professors He Weifang and Fan Chongyi to submit draft amendment proposals. In interviews, these professors noted that their proposals are aimed at addressing the overly administrative nature of the Chinese judiciary. Numerous structural constraints and internal practices limit the independence of Chinese courts and judges. (Further information is available in the judicial system section of Commission's 2004 Annual Report.)

The proposals currently under consideration by the SPC would institute explicit guarantees of judicial independence for Chinese judges in deciding cases. Court officials and adjudicative committees would be barred from interfering in the deliberation of cases by individual judges. According to a separate Beijing News article, the proposals would also clarify judicial hiring and promotion practices.

The proposals also contain structural measures aimed at separating Chinese courts from local governments. They allow the creation of courts with jurisdictional boundaries different than local or provincial boundaries. The draft amendment would also remove financial and personnel control over High People's Courts from provincial governments and vest it with the National People's Congress. As many observers have noted, local government control over court finances and personnel significantly limits judicial independence.

The extent to which the proposals on judicial independence will be adopted remains unclear. It is also unclear whether the reforms represent a comprehensive attack on the numerous internal practices of Chinese courts limiting judicial independence, including the frequent use of responsibility systems to discipline judges for incorrectly decided cases.