State Council Approves Amendments to Letters and Visits Regulations 'in Principle'

January 13, 2005

According to articles appearing in both the Legal Daily and on the website of the Ministry of Justice, the State Council has "in principle" approved amendments to the 1995 Regulations on Letters and Visits. The "letters and visits" (xinfang) system is an extrajudicial process of appeal centered on numerous petition bureaus scattered throughout the Chinese bureaucracy.

Precise details on the amendments are lacking, and presumably will be released once the final versions are approved. According to a report appearing in the South China Morning Post, the proposed amendments would exclude grievances related to the judicial system from the xinfang system.

As noted by Chinese critics and researchers, the Chinese xinfang system is highly ineffectual at resolving individual grievances. In one survey, only 2 out of a thousand petitioners received a reply. Nonetheless, overwhelming citizen use of the xinfang system as an alternative to the legal system raises significant issues regarding the development of the rule of law in China. For more information, see the Access to Justice section of the Commission's 2004 Annual Report.