Shanghai launches pilot reform of judicial staff

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The reform of Shanghai’s judiciary took its first step yesterday with the appointment of 289 staff from eight courts and prosecution offices as assistants to judges and prosecutors under a new personnel management system.

The new system splits judicial personnel into three sections — judges and prosecutors, support staff, and administrative staff.

It aims to raise the qualification threshold of judges and prosecutors to ensure quality and improve public credibility by readjusting the ratio of each category, said Jiang Ping, Party secretary of the Shanghai Political and Law Commission yesterday.

The reform suggests that ideally the number of judges or prosecutors should account for 33 percent of a court or prosecution office, with support staff making up 52 percent and administrative staff 15 percent.

Currently, the proportion of judges and prosecutors is much higher with administrative staff at 20 to 22 percent, Jiang said.

Jiang said many courts and prosecution offices had too many inexperienced judges and prosecutors not able to handle cases on their own, resulting in poor efficiency.

Under the new system, inexperienced judges and prosecutors may be downgraded to assistants depending on their performance in a transitional period of three to five years, said Lin Zhongming, an official with the Shanghai People’s Procuratorate.

Jiang said the two new positions — judge assistant and prosecutor assistant — marked a huge breakthrough in judiciary reform. “The assistants will share a lot of clerical work usually done by judges and prosecutors so they can concentrate on analyzing the cases to improve the quality of case handling,” Jiang said.

Judge assistants will review case materials, organize evidence exchange, meet litigants and prepare references related to the trial under the guidance of judges. They can also assist in collecting evidence, mediation and drafting legal documents.

Expressing opinions

Prosecutor assistants will be responsible for investigating cases, collecting evidence, drafting reports and accepting complaints and allegations. They can also express their opinions on penalties to prosecutors.

Assistants will be candidates for posts as judges and prosecutors.

Jiang said the career ladder for a basic-level staff member seeking to become a judge or prosecutor had changed with the establishment of the new assistant positions.

New employees who want to be a judge or prosecutor no longer need to work as a court clerk or prosecution clerk, but be directly appointed as assistants to judges or prosecutors if they have passed the local civil servant exam, the national bar exam and finished a one-year internship.

It will be at least five years before assistants have sufficient experience to apply for selection as judges and prosecutors. In the past, a court clerk could have become a judge in as little as two years, said Zhang Guanqun, an official with the Shanghai Higher People’s Court.

“Some people may be unhappy because they have to spend more time before they can wear a robe and bang a gavel,” Jiang said. “But overall quality will be much improved.”

The reform is being piloted in Shanghai and Guangdong, Jilin, Hubei, Hainan and Qinghai provinces before going nationwide.

In Shanghai the reform will first get underway in eight courts and prosecution offices in Xuhui, Minhang and Baoshan districts and Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court and Shanghai People’s Procuratorate No. 2 branch. It will be expanded throughout the city next year, Jiang said.

The reform also includes a new salary system, improved accountability, and a unified provincial system to manage lower courts and prosecution offices and their expenditure.

Jiang said the new salary system had been drafted and would be released once approved by the central government.

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