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Chinese Courts Make Progress in Human Rights Protection

President of the Supreme People's Court and Chief Justice Xiao Yang noted that China has made remarkable progress in the protection of human rights in the administration of justice over the past few years.

In an interview published in the latest issue of the Human Rights magazine, Xiao Yang said in March 2004, the Second Session of the 10th National People's Congress made amendments to the country's Constitution, incorporating "The state respects and protects human rights" into this fundamental law.

On the codification of human rights protection at the second session of the 10th National People's Congress, Xiao Yang described it as an "important milestone in human rights development in China," adding that it marked a deeper understanding of how to protect human rights by the Constitution and law and it is of great significance in directing the work of the people's courts.

By writing "human rights protection" into the Constitution, it has raised higher demand on the people's courts with regard to case hearing, said Xiao.

 The Chief Justice talked on what new measures the people's courts have taken in recent years to protect human rights.

He said that in 2003,the Supreme People's Court applied the principle of "building up the Party and exercising political power in the interests of the people" upheld by the Communist Party of China to the administration of law and advocated for "administering justice for the common interests of the people".

Accordingly it demanded all the people's courts in the country to adopt practicable measures to facilitate people to take legal actions and lower the litigation cost for parties concerned, solve the problem of those finding it "difficult to take legal actions" in some cases and protect citizen's right of action.

The Supreme People's Court took 23 specific measures and the people's courts at all levels also adopted practicable measures, such as distant filing of cases, mobile courts, opening hearing by appointments, which have won widespread approval. In recent years, the people's courts in the country have taken further steps to have the judicial assistance better implemented so that financially difficult special groups can take legal actions, according to Xiao.

Over the past two years, the people's courts throughout the country have provided judicial assistance to more than 460,000 people and reducing, postponing the payment of and exempting litigation cost amounting to more than two billion yuan (US$ 241 million).

Xiao stressed that "all the lawful rights should be protected whether they are of the majority or the minority. In a word, the rights of all people should be protected according to law and strike a good balance between safeguarding social order and protecting the rights of individuals.

The lawful rights should also be brought under protection for people who have been deprived of personal freedom or people whose rights are restricted, such as suspects in detention, defendants of criminal cases and prisoners behind bars. In a word, people who have not been deprived of their rights are still entitled to the protection of law, said Xiao.

China has implemented the policy of "combining punishment with leniency" and oppose advocacy of "heavy penalty" and "severe punishments" and strictly control the application for death sentence and strictly follow the procedures of passing death sentence. For minor offenses, China has applied probation in most cases. In 2003 and 2004, the people's courts in the country applied probation to more than 260,000 cases.

With regard to criminal control, China has upheld the principle of "combining punishments with correction" and applied reduction of prison terms and release on parole to criminals that have shown real performance of repentance. In 2003 and 2004, the people's courts in the country cut prison terms for and release on parole nearly 100,000 prison inmates.

In many of his speeches recently, the Chief Justice stressed that strictly observing the time limit for hearing cases provided by law is an important manifestation of the people's courts in punishing crimes according to law and safeguarding human rights.

"Justice coming late is injustice," he said. "A defendant has the right to get timely and fair judgment." The time limit for hearing has been set for criminal, civil and administrative cases, especially for criminal cases, all for the purpose of enabling defendants to know as soon as possible whether they should bear criminal responsibility so as to prevent them from being in a long state of uncertainty, according to Xiao.

But he admitted that in practice, due to various reasons, the hearing of some cases has been dragged and that is why there is still the problem of extended detention to varying degrees.

To solve the problem, the Supreme People's Court demanded all people's courts in the country to clear up cases of overdue detention so that all criminal cases are cleared as soon as possible. From 2003 to the end of 2004, the courts have cleared 4968 cases of overdue detention, involving 10,000 defendants. The people's courts have established a report system to exchange information about the time limit for case hearing so as to prevent recurrence of the problem, reducing and even putting an end to cases of overdue detention.

Answering the question on how Chinese courts have protected the rights of defendants in administrative cases over the past two decades, Xiao said that administrative hearing is a judicial review of particular administrative behavior and an important system for providing judicial assistance to citizens who have been harmed by administrative organs. In China, administrative procedure is popularly known as "common people suing government officials."

Administrative hearing had long been in operation in China even before the country officially introduced the system in 1989, although there were no specific rules on such hearing. After the promulgation of the administrative procedure law in 1989, China's administrative case hearing has been standardized. In 2003, the courts of the country handled more than 87,000 first hearing cases and in the January-November period of 2004, the courts throughout the country accepted more than 85,000 cases. More than 20 percent of the administrative organs lost their cases.

Xiao said that the institutionalization of "common people suing government officials" is a progress in the civilization of the Chinese society and indicates that China's human rights protection has been brought onto the orbit of institutionalization and standardization.

Jan.1 of 2005 marks the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the State Compensation Law and the Chief Justice reviewed the implementation of the law. He said that the state compensation system is a remedial system by which the state gives economic compensation to citizens, corporate persons and other organizations that have suffered personal or property damages due to law-violating administrative decisions and case handling by state organs and their functionaries.

"The introduction of the system is a specific move to respect and protect human rights and it is of great significance to make state organs and their functionaries to act upon the law and protect the lawful rights of citizens, corporate persons and other organizations," said Xiao.

Since the implementation of the State Compensation Law in January 1995, the people's courts in the country have well performed their duties empowered by the Constitution and law and handle with great care all kinds of state compensation cases strictly according to law. Over the past ten years, the people's courts have accepted more than 18,000 such cases. The results of hearing show that more than one third of the cases accepted were ruled to be compensated for.

On the progress of specialization of judges in China and the relations between specialization of judges and judicial protection of human rights, Xiao Yang said that "justice and efficiency" are the main themes of the work of the people's courts and a foundation on which to realize human protection in the area of administering justice. To make the administration of law just and efficient requires a contingent of specialized judges. Starting from 2002 when the Supreme People's Court advanced the idea of building a contingent of professional judges, everything has been going on well.

Starting from 2002, China has introduced nationally unified examination in law, which has provided guarantee for the building of a contingent of professional judges in terms of legal knowledge. Most of the 180,000 judges working with the people's courts in the country have received regular training in colleges and schools of law or in training classes. Besides, the Supreme People's Court issued in 2002 Basic Norms for Professional Ethics of Judges to provide a guide to building a contingent of professional judges.

On human rights dialogue and cooperation with foreign and international organizations, Xiao said that China has over the years carried out extensive dialogue and cooperation with foreign and international organizations to exchange views on human rights.

In 2004 alone, the Supreme People's Court received high-ranking officials from the United States, Britain, Australia and Norway and UN human rights organization and told them about the tremendous progress China has made in the area of the administration of law and exchanged with them views on issues concerning the review of death sentences and hearing of related cases.

(Xinhua News Agency February 23, 2005)


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