More than half century ago when the People's Republic of China was established, the country had no legal aid system in whatever form. Then, only a handful of low-income people who were accused of crimes could afford for a lawyer to defend themselves.
Whereas in 2004, China has approximately 3,000 legal aid organizations and about 10,000 legal aid professionals. More than 1.3 million Chinese who were in economic difficulties have been provided with legal aid during the past ten years.
In the past 55 years after the founding of new China, an increasing number of ordinary Chinese, who are in a dire need, have acquired free legal service, said Sang Ning, deputy director of the Legal Aid Center under the Ministry of Justice. "We have materialized the sole purpose of legal aid with our concrete deeds, that is to safeguard human rights and to maintain judicial justice. China has built a comprehensive legal aid system since 1994."
Some major cities around the country, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao, began instituting legal aid organizations in 1994.
Relevant clauses on legal aid were added into the Criminal Procedural Law and the Lawyer Law in 1996 and, in the following year, China's Legal Aid Foundation and China Legal Aid Center were officially established. Regulation on Legal Aid was formerly promulgated in 2003.
In 1998, the Chinese government earmarked a sum of some 40 million yuan (US$4.8 million) to offer legal aid to the defendants who are in poor economic conditions. The figure rose drastically to 150 million yuan (US$18 million) in 2003.
Moreover, China Legal Aid Foundation in 2003 collected 70 million yuan (US$8.4 million) from society for legal aid work.
Sang noted China is the only nation in the world enacting a special law to guarantee legal aid. The money from the programs come mainly from three sources: government funds, private donations and lawyer's free service.
Regulation on Legal Aid requires every lawyer to undertake the duty of offering free legal aid if designated. If they fail to do so, they will be penalized.
China's lawyers have so far provided free legal services in more than 200,000 criminal and civil cases during the past decade.
(Xinhua News Agency October 1, 2004)