X. Judicial Democracy
China's judicial structure and system are important components of the country's system of socialist political democracy. Over the years, China has endeavored to build and improve its judicial system and working mechanism, strengthen the building of judicial democracy, and guarantee the legitimate rights and interests of citizens and legal persons through judicial justice, and realize social fairness and justice.
China has set up separate judicial organs and procuratorial organs under the people's congresses, and practices a judicial system with separation between judicial organs and procuratorial organs. The judicial system reveals the nature of the socialist system in which the people are the masters of the country, and also learns from the experience of other countries in their building of judicial systems. Chinese judicial organs use facts as the basis and law as the yardstick, and punish crimes in strict accordance with the law to protect the legitimate rights and interests of citizens.
According to the Chinese Constitution and relevant laws, the people's courts and people's procuratorates exercise judicial power and procuratorial power independently in accordance with the law, and are responsible to, and supervised by, the people's congresses. They are not subject to interference by any administrative organ, public organization or individual. The judicial organs carry out their duties independently within the limits as prescribed by the law, and any interference in their independent exercise of judicial power and procuratorial power in accordance with the law is a violation of the Constitution and the law. Based on this, China has established a system in which the courts independently exercise their judicial power to conduct civil, administrative and criminal trials in accordance with the law, and the procuratorates independently exercise their power to approve arrests, institute public prosecutions, lodge protests and supervise law enforcement in accordance with the law.
As the judicial organs of the state, the people's courts take judicial justice as the aim, reform and complete the trial system in line with the principle of independence in trial, and punish criminals and protect the people through trials: they practice the system of defense in criminal trials, attach importance to evidence, not give credence to confessions and see to it that the rights of accused are protected. In civil trials, they pay attention to protecting the rights of the litigants and provide judicial guarantees for citizens to exercise their democratic rights and for litigants to enjoy their civil rights. In administrative trials, they protect citizens' legitimate rights from infringement by illegal conduct of administrative organs. In 2004, local courts at various levels nationwide closed 644,248 criminal cases of first instance, 4,303,744 civil cases of first instance and 92,192 administrative cases, and corrected, in accordance with the law, wrong judgments in 16,967 cases, which accounted for 0.34 percent of the total effective judgments handed down that year. In recent years, the people's courts have been constantly improving litigation procedures to protect legal rights and interests of citizens and legal persons, and truly solve the issue of difficulty in enforcement.
China has established the Supreme People's Court and people's courts at various local levels, as well as the military courts and other special people's courts. By the end of 2004, there were 3,548 people's courts at various levels and special people's courts, with a total of 190,627 judges.
As the state organs for legal supervision, the people's procuratorates bear, in accordance with the law, the responsibility of cracking down on criminal offenses, investigating embezzlement, bribery, misconduct and infringement on the people's rights by state functionaries, as well as exercising legal supervision over lawsuits and safeguarding judicial justice and legal uniformity. With regard to the legal supervision over criminal lawsuits, they supervise in an all-round way the placing of cases on file, investigation, trial and execution of penalties, and give equal stress to both the extirpation of crime and the protection of human rights. In legal supervision over civil and administrative lawsuits, they protect the legitimate rights and interests of the parties on an equal footing, with priority given to cases of unjust judgments caused by serious violation of legal procedures, taking bribes and bending the law, and committing irregularities for personal gain. In recent years, the procuratorial organs have made public their operations, adopted the system of notifying litigants of their rights and obligations, the system of public review of non-prosecution cases, criminal appeals and civil administrative counter-appeals, and a working mechanism that guarantees that lawyers perform in accordance with the law in handling criminal lawsuits, in an effort to ensure judicial justice. In 2004, procuratorial organs turned down requests for arrest warrants in 68,676 cases, reversed prosecution decisions in 26,994 cases, corrected 2,699 cases that had been improperly placed on file by investigation organs, allowed appeals in 3,063 criminal cases and 13,218 civil administrative judgments, demanded retrials in 4,333 cases, placed 5,569 criminal appeal cases on file for re-investigation, and changed 786 original decisions.
China has established the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the people's procuratorates at various local levels, as well as military procuratorates and other special people's procuratorates. By the end of 2004, there were 3,630 people's procuratorates at various levels, with 140,077 procurators.
Chinese judicial practice abides, both in institutional and procedural terms, by the principle that everyone is equal and the principle that the punishment must be made to fit the crime. The systems of trial by levels, challenge, open trial, people's jurors, people's supervisors, lawyers, legal assistance and people's mediation have been introduced to safeguard judicial justice, and guarantee the democratic rights of the people and the legitimate rights and interests of citizens.
- System of open trial. The system of open trial is prescribed in both the Chinese Constitution and relevant laws. In recent years, the Supreme People's Court requires courts at all levels to try cases openly and in strict accordance with the law, in open courts and with evidence openly submitted, question the witness openly, and announce all judgments openly. The people's courts at various levels have further reinforced the system of open trial. Except for cases which should be tried in camera, as specified by law, they now hear all cases in public. Notice of cases to be tried in public shall be announced in advance to open the entire process to the auditing of ordinary citizens and the press. The people's courts also, on their own initiative, invite deputies to the people's congresses and members of CPPCC organizations to audit open trials so that the NPC deputies can supervise and the CPPCC members can inspect judicial activities.
- System of people's jurors. After New China was founded in 1949, the state prescribed the system of people's jurors in relevant laws, and made detailed provisions for such a system in the Organization Law of People's Courts and other laws enacted later. The Decision on Improving the System of People's Jurors, adopted by the NPC Standing Committee in August 2004, clearly states the scope of trials in which jurors could participate, as well as the qualifications and selection, and rights and obligations of jurors. In line with the law and relevant provisions, the people's courts implement the system of people's jurors in earnest to ensure people's direct participation in and supervision of judicial activities.
- System of people's supervisors. Adopting the system of people's supervisors and placing procuratorial work under the effective supervision of the people embody the requirements of lawsuit democracy. Since October 2003, the procuratorial organs began to try out the system of people's supervisors in 10 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government. Later, this system was spread to 86 percent of all procuratorates nationwide. People's supervisors are selected at the recommendation of various organs, groups, institutions and enterprises, with such major duties as conducting independent appraisals and submitting supervisory comments on cases the procuratorial organs have directly placed on file for investigation but have later decided to withdraw or halt the prosecution of, and in cases of refusal to submit to arrest. They can also participate, upon invitation, in other law-enforcement examination activities organized by the people's procuratorates regarding crimes committed by civil servants, and make suggestions and comments on violations of law and discipline discovered. By the end of 2004, a total of 18,962 people's supervisors had been selected, who had supervised the conclusion of 3,341 cases.
- System of lawyers. The Lawyers Law, promulgated in 1996, initially established the basic framework of a system of lawyers with Chinese characteristics, and it contains provisions on the rights and obligations of lawyers in the course of judicial and administrative procedures, and other social activities. By the end of 2004, there were 118,000 certified lawyers and 11,691 law firms in China; the unitary state law firms had been replaced by the coexistence of a multiple variety of law firms, including partnership law firms, state law firms and cooperative law firms, with the partnership law firms accounting for 68.6 percent of the total. In addition, 148 foreign law firms from 17 countries had been allowed to establish offices that are allowed to operate within the boundaries of China, and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region had established 48 law offices on the mainland of China. In 2004, lawyers throughout the country handled over 1.5 million lawsuits and more than 800,000 non-lawsuit cases. The establishment and improvement of the system of lawyers enable the lawyers to make use of legal means to protect the rights and interests of the litigants, and ensure correct application of law and social fairness and justice.
- System of legal assistance. Legal assistance is a key measure to guarantee the legitimate rights and interests of the disadvantaged groups and achieve judicial justice. Since 1994, China has explored the building of a legal assistance system with Chinese characteristics. Provisions on the status of the system are stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Law, the Lawyers Law and other laws. The Regulations on Legal Assistance, which came into effect in September 2003, set the basic framework for the system. By the end of 2004, some 3,023 government-sponsored legal assistance organs had been set up across the country, including 2,628 at county and district level, thus initially forming a basic network giving access to people with various difficulties in both urban and rural areas. Nationwide, some 10,458 persons are designated to provide legal assistance, of whom 4,768 are professional lawyers. Input of funds for legal assistance from the treasuries of governments at various levels has increased year by year, up from 18.69 million yuan in 1999 to 217.12 million yuan in 2004, representing an annual average growth of 212 percent. Over the past decade, legal assistance organizations throughout the country have organized lawyers, grassroots legal service workers and volunteers to handle some 1.1 million legal assistance cases, providing such services to more than 1.6 million people. In recent years, many social groups, NGOs and institutions of higher learning have also participated in legal assistance work.
- System of people's mediation. By people's mediation, it means to, under the guidance of people's mediation committees established in accordance with the law, on the basis of voluntariness from the parties to a dispute and taking the state laws, regulations, rules, policies and social morality as the yardstick, help the parties to a dispute to reach an agreement by way of ample reasoning and patient persuasion. To date, over 860,000 people's mediation committees have been established nationwide. Manned by 6.6 million people's mediators, they provide mediation services to about 6 million civil disputes of various kinds, and the rate of success exceeded 95 percent.
To further meet the demands for rule of the country by law and building a harmonious socialist society, China is, in accordance with the requirements of judicial justice and strict enforcement of law, improving the establishment of judicial organs, the delimitation of their functions and powers and their management systems, in the hope of establishing a better judicial system that features clearly specified powers and responsibilities, mutual coordination and restraint, and highly efficient operation, so as to ensure, institutionally, that the judicial and procuratorial organs exercise adjudicative power and procuratorial power independently and impartially in accordance with the law, better safeguard the judicial authority, safeguard the democratic rights as well as legitimate rights and interests of the people and maintain fairness and justice for the society.