NPC Considers Proposals on Public Interest Law

April 5, 2005

National People's Congress (NPC) members and representatives of Chinese civil society organizations submitted legislative proposals that would promote the development of public interest law during the annual NPC plenary session, noted a Beijing News report. Individual Chinese lawyers and academic organizations have been active in cases involving broader social issues, but Chinese and foreign observers note that tough "standing" rules forbid individuals from suing on behalf of the public. ("Standing" refers generally to a requirement that litigants have a real interest in the outcome of a suit – in other words, that the result matters to them.)

The State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has been particularly vigorous in promoting public interest litigation (see related story here. These SEPA efforts correspond with broader goals that SEPA officials identified in an interview last year. They emphasized as core components of their strategy holding public hearings, evaluating officials based on their environmental performance, and promoting public interest litigation. Some SEPA proposals involve changing current "standing" requirements to allow NGOs and individuals to sue on the public’s behalf. Other than SEPA officials, however, the Chinese government generally has resisted proposals to expand "standing" requirements in public interest law. Officials evidently think that allowing NGOs and citizen activists to bring suits on behalf of the public might mobilize people against unpopular government policies.

Official resistance to change may be responsible in part for delays in the amendment of the Civil Procedure Law. A Xinhua report notes that the NPC originally was to consider these amendments in its just-concluded legislative session, but it now seems that the legislature will not consider these amendments until 2006 at the earliest. According to the Xinhua article, the NPC Legal Affairs Committee awaits instructions on how to proceed.