Chinese Court Web Site Highlights Three Upcoming Judicial Reforms for 2005

March 14, 2005

According to a report on the China Court Net Web site, interviews with unnamed Supreme People's Court (SPC) sources identify three primary areas for judicial reform during 2005: (1) the system of people's assessors; (2) court adjudication committees; and (3) court zaishen (rehearing) procedures.

The SPC "Directive On Improving the System of People's Assessors (Renmin Shenpanyuan)" will enter into force on May 1. This directive regularizes the practice of using lay assessors to participate in court hearings and clarifies that these laypersons, who are often selected and screened by court personnel, enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as judges. These rights and responsibilities include determining the facts and interpreting the law. Chinese authorities bill the "people's assessor" system as an anti-corruption device that will allow popular supervision of the judiciary.

The SPC is also contemplating reform of the system of court adjudication committees. Adjudication committees are the highest authority in Chinese courts and have wide discretion to overrule decisions or intervene in individual cases. As noted in the article, this power often limits the ability of individual judges to decide cases independently. Possible reforms include restricting membership on adjudication committees to more educated and capable judges and incorporating such elements as arguments and briefings into their review. Currently, adjudication review often involves a decision by committee, which allows for political considerations to affect the outcome of the case.

According to the article, the SPC is also considering reforms to court zaishen (rehearing) procedures in the second half of 2005. Zaishen permits a court to reopen and review final decisions with few practical limits, a practice that undermines the finality of court decisions. Proposed reforms may restrict the number of times a case may be reviewed. However, they may also enhance the ability of individual parties to request zaishen review. This may add additional avenues of appeals for dissatisfied litigants, which would have a negative impact on the finality of decisions.