Social conflict on the rise: top judge

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The country's courts are expected to face an increasing number of cases involving social conflict next year, the country's top court official said on Monday.

Wang Shengjun, president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC), said courts will face more challenges next year in safeguarding people's rights and balancing the interests of different groups, as social welfare conflicts become more common and severe.

Wang urged judges from provincial courts to fully understand the impact of "domestic conflicts, especially rising conflicts in the social welfare sector" and to make improving people's livelihoods their top priority next year.

Wang emphasized categories such as labor disputes, conflicts arising out of surging housing prices and changing housing loan policies, as well as disputes about housing demolitions.

"Judges should take both the necessity of urbanization and development, and individuals' rights into consideration when handling such cases," he said.

Statistics from the SPC showed that courts nationwide handled 295,500 labor dispute cases in 2008, a year-on-year increase of 95.3 percent. The figure jumped to 318,600 in 2009, up by 7.8 percent over the previous year.

"Labor dispute cases have become one of the most difficult tasks for courts, partly because of the global financial crisis over the past two years, and also because of workers' growing awareness that they can protect their rights and interests," said Sun Jungong, a spokesman for the SPC.

Wang also encouraged judges to pay attention to public opinion and to respond promptly to questions from the public, as in recent years several scandals have damaged the credibility of the legal system.

One well-known case was that of Zhao Zuohai, a villager from Central China's Henan province, who spent 11 years in jail until the man he allegedly killed showed up alive on April 30.

In July, Feng Bin, a judge in Hubei province, was dismissed from office for staging high-profile protests during the previous two years over his wife's labor rights while dressed in his court uniform and red badge.

"We should realize that every case, or even every procedure in every case, might attract public attention, and any mistake by us will create doubt in people's minds," Wang said.

In the future China might face a high crime rate, he said, and all courts should make special efforts to handle cases dealing with crimes that threaten national security, terrorism, human trafficking, mafia-style gangsters and corruption.

The top court will also cooperate with the top procuratorate to overcome "interference" when handling cases of dereliction of duty, and to ensure those so charged won't be given lighter punishment than they deserve, Wang said.

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