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Shanghai Courts Give Legal Aid to Poor

Although she has lost her husband and then the lawsuit, Wang expressed her appreciation for the legal assistance provided by the Shanghai Jiading District People's Court.

She was exempt from the 7,000 yuan (US$863) legal costs, which is almost the total annual income of her underprivileged household.

Wang filed the lawsuit after her husband died in a traffic accident last year, but she lost the case when the defendant was proved not to be the driver. It was found out that the car, which drove away immediately after the accident, used a fake number plate.

Wang left Shanghai to resettle in her hometown in Anhui Province early this year when all attempts to find the driver failed. Still, she said she was thankful to the court.

This is just one of the cases the city's courts have handled in order to make law suits affordable for the poor.

The country's courts began providing such assistance some 20 years ago.

In 2000 and again this year, the Supreme People's Court promulgated and amended the regulations on providing legal assistance to poverty-stricken people.

Now people in some 14 categories, such as the widowed, orphaned, poor and disabled can apply for the assistance.

Applicants, who meet the criteria, can delay the paying of legal costs, pay at a reduced rate, or be totally exempted from it.

In 2004 and the first six months of this year, Shanghai's courts reduced, waived and postponed nearly 30 million yuan (US$3.7 million) in legal fees.

"We are trying to adopt more rules in this regard," said Judge Ni Chunnan from Nanhui District People's Court.

In September last year, a bucket full of sulphuric acid hit Lin Lanfeng and her five-month-old baby girl, when it was hit by a car. The poor family is now facing a medical bill up to 300,000 yuan (US$37,000).

After it accepted the case, and before the hearing was held, the court ordered the driver to pay part of the bill to relieve the family's burden. The case will be heard after the mother and the girl have finished receiving treatment.

More than 400 migrant workers with the Shanghai Pinghong Investment Company sued the company on the eve of Spring Festival this year, asking the company to pay them their long overdue wages a total of 5 million yuan (US$616,500).

After hearing the case, the court immediately transferred the amount from the company's account and gave it to the workers before they headed back home to spend the lunar New Year with their families. Otherwise, it could have been months before the company paid up.

(China Daily August 17, 2005)

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