Ministry of Justice Web Site Publishes ACLA Suggestions on Improving the Work Environment for Defense Lawyers

February 10, 2005

In November 2004, the Ministry of Justice Web site published a series of suggestions made by the Criminal Law Committee of the All China Lawyers Association to improve the work environment for criminal defense attorneys. According to the article, ACLA has recommended reforms related to the following issues:

· Investigative rights of lawyers. Lawyers should have the opportunity to collect evidence during the investigation phase of the criminal process, to verify that law enforcement agencies are following procedures, to monitor the detention of their clients, and to interview victims.
· Right of lawyers to review case files. According to the article, this right is often ignored and needs to be guaranteed in practice.
· Lawyer access to clients during interrogation. Lawyers should be present at interrogation and interrogation sessions should be recorded. The article notes that these reforms could "finally restrain" the problem of torture, which it characterizes as "widespread" in basic level organs.
· Lawyer liability. The article notes that as long as the decision to investigate and prosecute defense lawyers for evidence fabrication and other crimes related to their work is left in the hands of police and prosecutors, lawyers will be too fearful of reprisals to be vigorous advocates for their clients. ACLA has reportedly suggested that any decision to charge lawyers for such crimes be subject to the approval of a people’s court.
· Simplified procedures and open evidence. Courts should employ "simplified procedures" when the defendant confesses, the facts are clear, and the evidence sufficient (presumably to lessen the burden on attorneys) and institute an open evidence system.
· Lawyer remedies. The government should establish a mechanism through which lawyers can file complaints and seek a remedy if their professional rights are violated in the criminal process.

The MOJ article notes that because the quality of criminal defense is uneven and the percentage of criminal defendants represented by counsel is dropping, systemic reforms of the criminal process are needed to enhance the role of lawyers. Such statements, along with the fact that MOJ chose to publish the ACLA committee’s suggestions on its official site, may be indications that there is support within the MOJ for the proposed reforms.