China is to trim the scale of its judge contingent again over the next few years in a bid to raise the standard of professionalism among judges, said Xiao Yang, chief grand justice and president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC), in Beijing Sunday.
Xiao wants judges to have no local interference, to be revered for their integrity and well-paid so that they can lead a better life. He issued his blue-print for doing this at a national conference held soon after China had streamlined court staff by 10 percent.
As the result of the recent nationwide court reforms, there is now one Chief Grand Justice, 41 Grand Justices, 30,000 senior judges and 180,000 judges across the country, Xiao said. But a marked number of them do not have a degree in law and many are incompetent to hold the position of judge.
"Courts have often been taken as branches of the government, and judges viewed as civil servants who have to follow orders from superiors, which prevents them from exercising mandated legal duties like other members of the judiciary," Xiao said.
Non-professionalization judges, he added, have become one of the most vital factors in judicial inequity, which brings strong complaints from the public.
Professional judges will "form a chosen group of elites who speak the same legal language, think in a unique legal formula, believe in and pursue social justice," according to the chief grand justice. And he predicts "over the years, unique professional traditions and qualities come into being, which will give judges the strength and the power to ward off outside interference."
However, the process will be "a huge system engineering project," Xiao acknowledged. And one of the important steps is to separate the competent from the incompetent.
The Supreme People's Court is going to decide on the total number of judges in each court based on population, economic growth and the number of legal disputes under their jurisdiction. The new quota is expected to be much less than the existing number of judges, and those who are not appointed judges may serve as assistants.
Zhu Mingshan, grand justice and vice-president of the SPC, detailed other aspects of the reform to Xinhua:
-- New judges, from this year on, have to pass two exams, namely, the national judicial examination and the test by the provincial people's court, and receive special training for a period of time, before being appointed. The incumbent judges without a law degree must obtain one within a set time, and will be dismissed if they fail.
-- A mechanism will be instituted to ensure that judges are free from interventions from local and departmental protectionism. Judges shall not be fired, demoted or disciplined without due legal proceedings.
-- Probity and virtue are the ultimate goals of professionalization. More rules on supervision and warnings are being drafted to ensure judges' roles are checked and balanced.
This year and next will see the re-election of grand justices and presidents of provincial level higher people's court, as well as the majority of heads of municipal and county level courts, Chief Grand Justice Xiao told today's meeting.
"Court leaders at various levels are of key significance to the professionalization of judges," he said, urging the incumbent leaders to play an active role in helping local authorities and legislatures choose the right court leaders.
(Xinhua News Agency July 7, 2002)