NPC Official Confirms That Chinese Citizens May Challenge the Constitutionality of Laws and Regulations, But Commentary Emphasizes That the Constitution Still Is Not a Basis for Litigation

December 6, 2004

Li Fei, Vice Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, confirmed in a statement on December 1 that citizens may petition for legislative review of laws and regulations that they believe conflict with the PRC Constitution. Li’s comments, the subject of articles in the Beijing News and other domestic papers, were reportedly made in response to a posting on the People’s Daily Web site that raised questions about China’s constitutional review process. Li noted that the NPC Standing Committee has established a special office to handle citizen petitions. He also suggested that a constitutional court is not appropriate for China because China’s government does not apply a concept of separation of powers. A related commentary published in the People’s Daily was more direct, stating specifically that the constitution is not a basis for litigation and that China will not adopt a constitutional court or a judicial review mechanism.

Although this story was given wide play in the domestic Chinese press, Li’s comments do not appear to contain anything new. Chinese citizens have had the right to petition the NPC for review of the constitutionality of laws and regulations since the PRC Legislation Law became effective in 2000, and the creation of the constitutional review office under the NPCSC was announced earlier this year. Li’s statement did not address existing gaps in the review system, such as the inability of citizens to compel review, the inability of citizens to request review in individual cases involving constitutional violations, and the lack of concrete procedures for handling petitions. In February 2003, the Legal Daily published an interesting commentary highlighting several of these problems.