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Legal Aid System Benefits Thousands of Chinese

As many as 600,000 people across the country have received assistance from the legal aid system in the past five years, Justice Minister Zhang Fusen announced Friday.

At a press conference organized by the Information Office of the State Council, Zhang said that legal aid centers at different levels have been set up in the 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions on the Chinese mainland.

"As high as 83 percent of prefectures (cities) and 65 percent of counties (districts) have established their own legal aid centers," he noted.

The legal aid system in China was first established in 1994, aiming to offer free or inexpensive legal services to citizens who have financial difficulties. The system has become an important way to ensure justice and protect the legitimate rights of disadvantaged people.

Zhang said the Chinese legal aid system has made tremendous progress in the past seven years, with the number of legal aid cases expanding from 40,000 in 1997 to 170,000 in 2000.

But the legal aid work in China also confronts challenges in the course of its development, due to economic restraints, Zhang noted, adding that more new situations and problems will arise after China joins the World Trade Organization and signs the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Zhang said that during the Tenth Five-Year Plan period the Ministry of Justice will focus on five tasks based on the target of "establishing an overall legal aid system".

According to the minister, the five tasks are: To establish the legal aid system on more extensive scale; to secure a steady budget for legal aid; to train a high quality legal aid staff team; to establish a set of scientific laws, to set rules and regulations on legal aid, and to develop and improve the concept of legal aid.

Gong Xiaobing, director of the Legal Aid Center under the Ministry of Justice, pointed out that one purpose of the legal aid system is to ensure the quality of the legal aid service.

Any lawyer who offers poor service in handling legal aid cases will be punished in accordance with the relevant regulations promulgated by the Ministry of Justice, Gong said.

(People's Daily 09/28/2001)

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