Supreme People's Court Initiates Work Inspections: Ten Teams Sent Out to Review Local Courts (story in Chinese)

November 1, 2004

According to Xinhua, the Supreme People's Court (SPC) has initiated a series of work inspections of local Chinese courts. Ten work teams have been dispatched to review the work performance of local courts with respect to five fields. These include: (1) the general strengthening of local court work; (2) the ability of local courts to establish an image of judicial fairness; (3) their ability to resolve problems which would lead to citizen petitioning of higher government organs; (4) their implementation of reduced criminal sentences and the use of bail procedures; (5) their ability to address instances of extended detention and violations of the statute of limitations.

SPC vice-president Cao Jianming noted that the traditional reliance of the SPC on standard appellate processes to conduct review of lower court work and address errors of law often takes far too long, with uneven results. Consequently, the SPC has decided to adopt a more proactive approach to monitoring activities of lower courts through the aggressive use of inspection teams.

This development reflects a general tendency to regulate the Chinese judiciary in a highly top-down manner, similar to an administrative agency. While often effective in addressing particular problems, such measures often have negative institutional effects. First, they tend to create passive local courts that prefer to wait for direct guidance from central authorities rather than take independent action themselves. Second, they often lead lower courts to emphasize complying with higher-level administrative directives, rather than the law itself, in deciding cases.