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New Law to Make Notaries Accountable

Notary agencies would face heavy fines for abusing their powers under a proposed law being reviewed during the ongoing session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC).

The law, designed to make the country's 3,162 notarial offices and 20,000 notaries more accountable and reliable, calls for fines of up to 100,000 yuan (US$12,000) for fake notarization, in addition to payment of compensation for any losses.

The draft was created amid rising public fury over cases involving notarial abuse.

In March, a lottery ticket seller in Xi'an garnered all the top prizes -- three BMW sedans and 360,000 yuan (US$43,500) in cash -- by giving the winning tickets to his accomplices. The notary overseeing the lottery, it turned out, did not verify the identity of the winners and was charged with dereliction of duty.

Creating a new law is imperative in order to "restore the image of notary agencies and buoy the public's confidence in notarization," said NPC Standing Committee member Nan Zhenzhong during a group discussion on Sunday. Notary services are currently regulated by a central government directive issued in 1982.

The draft law specifies a number of violations for which notaries may be penalized, such as notarizing for family members, but also contains a catchall clause that includes "other activities banned by laws and regulations."

"Lawmakers would usually avoid using such all-inclusive general articles on punishment for fear of making administrators excessively powerful," said Liu Junhai, a researcher with the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

This law makes an exception because the drafters want to be particularly strict, he said.

The draft also requires future notary hopefuls to pass the national bar exam, currently a mandatory test only for judges, prosecutors and lawyers.

Legislators have agreed with the tough supervision principles, but questions remain in some other areas.

One hot spot is the location of notarial agencies.

The draft requires notarial offices to be opened only in counties or districts of big cities. At present, notarial services are also available at city and provincial levels.

NPC Standing Committee member Zhuang Gonghui believes that downgrading notarial services could affect the quality of notarization. He said that notarial services of provinces and big cities are more professional, whereas many irregularities tend to occur in small places.

"In many international deals in Tianjin, such as loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, only notarization by the municipal notarial office is accepted, whereas that of district offices is not," said Zhuang, whose constituency is in Tianjin.

(China Daily December 29, 2004)

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