A Socialist Judicial System with Chinese Characteristics

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-21 08:31
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 This year we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The CPC realized the importance of the rule of law in the early stages of its historic campaign to lead the Chinese people toward socialism with Chinese characteristics. Since then, the Party has been giving increasing emphasis to the development of China’s legal and judicial systems. In the three decades that have passed since the launch of the reform and opening up drive, China has not only achieved faster social and economic development than ever before, but has also made unprecedented progress in the development of its democracy and legal system. Now that China has succeeded in putting a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics in place, efforts are being stepped up to develop a fair, efficient and authoritative judicial system on the basis of socialism. With this, we can expect to see the emergence of a more prominent socialist judicial system with Chinese characteristics. 

 May 5, 2011, an employee of the county judicial bureau (middle) explaining the procedure for legal aid to rural women in Taiping Village, Qingxi Town, Hanshan County, Anhui Province. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Cheng Qianjun

 I. The scientific design of China’s socialist judicial system

 China’s socialist judicial system finds its roots in Marxist legal thought and theories. It represents an incredible achievement in the adaptation of these theories to suit the conditions of China and a successful attempt to practice the rule of law within the theoretical framework of socialism with Chinese Characteristics. These things make it a remarkable creation in the history of law as a foundation of governance in human society.

 China’s socialist judicial system is a scientifically designed system. It not only comprises of a unique series of judicial norms, organizations, bodies, procedures, mechanisms, institutions, and human resource systems, but also embodies a number of unique elements such as ideas, theories, policies, culture and safeguards. Under the firm leadership of the CPC, the Chinese people have devoted tireless efforts to the development of China’s judicial system over the past 60 years. Now, we are proud to say that these efforts have finally culminated in the establishment of a socialist judicial system with Chinese characteristics. In particular, we can say this because the institutions and mechanisms of the judiciary have been progressively refined, the system of judicial organizations has been gradually improved, the layout of organizations and the allocation of personnel have been rationalized, the functions of the judiciary have been expanded, procedures and conditions have been improved, judicial actions have been standardized, the standard of judicial personnel has been raised, and judicial reform has been advanced. China’s socialist judicial system is playing an increasingly important role in the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics and in the promotion of scientific economic and social development.

 Specifically, China’s socialist judicial system consists of four systems. The first system comprises of judicial norms. These norms not only include the norms of judicial institutions as stipulated in the Constitution, the Organic Law of the People’s Courts, the Organic Law of the People’s Procuratorates, the Judges Law and the Public Procurators Law, but also include the norms of judicial procedures as stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Law, the Civil Procedure Law and the Administrative Procedure Law. The second system refers to the group of organizations that make up the judiciary, primarily comprising of adjudicating bodies and the procuratorates. In addition, other related organizations that play a partial judicial role include public security and national security authorities, the judicial administration, and national customs. Under the centralized leadership of the CPC, China’s judicial organizations and related organizations come together to form a systematic group of procuratorial, judicial and public security organizations with Chinese characteristics. The third system comprises of judicial institutions, which cover six major aspects: investigation, prosecution, adjudication, prisons, lawyers, and notaries. In addition, China has also developed a series of distinctive judicial institutions, including people’s mediation, people’s juries, death penalty review, adjudicatory supervision, judicial interpretation, and case guidance. The fourth system covers the management of judicial personnel. In China, the term “judicial personnel” refers to personnel engaged in investigation, prosecution, adjudication, and supervision, and also includes personnel engaged in auxiliary roles. Following decades of reform, development and training, not only has the number of judicial personnel increased significantly, but the overall standard of personnel has been raised, and the way that personnel are classified has become much more rational. The system we have developed comprises of judicial personnel, judicial auxiliary personnel, and legal workers. Judicial personnel include judges, public procurators and police officers; auxiliary personnel include court clerks, judicial police officers, logistics workers and administrative management personnel; and legal workers include people’s jurors, lawyers, notaries, judicial appraisal experts, arbitrators, and people’s mediators.

 II. The fundamental features of China’s socialist judicial system

 The fundamental characteristic of China’s socialist judicial system is the balance that it has struck between the leadership of the Party, the position of the people as masters of the country, and the rule of law. The core pursuit of China’s socialist judicial system is to ensure that the people act as the masters of the country. In China, the judiciary is there to serve the people. This is because the people are the source of its power. All of China’s judicial systems have been created and established by the people during the course of judicial practice, which means that they reflect the will and interests of the people.

 China’s socialist judicial system is geared to operate under China’s state and political systems, namely, the people’s democratic dictatorship and the system of people’s congresses. As a system, it is suited to the realities of China during the primary stage of socialism, conducive to the development of China’s society, economy, and socialist democracy, and able to act as both a guarantee and a source of impetus for the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It is also characterized by a progressive spirit that allows it to move with the times. China’s socialist judicial system adheres to the principles of putting the people first, serving the people, and relying on the people. It reflects the will of the people and ensures public participation in the judicial process. Due to this, it has won widespread support among the people that it represents. During the course of its development, China’s socialist judicial system has successfully drawn on favorable judicial practices from different periods of history. As an open system, it has taken reference from judicial systems in other countries, some of which exercise totally different legal, judicial and social systems, and has also learned from judicial systems in the international community. The various parts of China’s judicial system are able to operate independently, work together in coordination, and keep each other in check. In practice, different judicial branches are able to independently carry out their respective duties in accordance with the law under the effective supervision of other branches, which ensures efficiency, fairness and justice throughout the judicial process. On the other hand, the various parts of the judiciary are also able to devote concerted efforts to the resolution of major issues in the reform of the judicial system, the formulation of judicial policies, and in the process of judicial interpretation. This cohesion is effective in the resolution of complicated judicial issues.

 III. The reform and improvement of China’s socialist judicial system

 In general, China’s judicial system is conducive to the country’s political, economic and social development at present. Despite this, the institutions and mechanisms of the judiciary are not without their insufficiencies and shortcomings. In some ways, these shortcomings have prevented the superior potential of China’s judicial system from being brought into full play, and have resulted in the system falling short of increasingly high public expectations. In recent years, the CPC Central Committee has attached a high level of importance to the reform of the judicial system. Calls for judicial reform have been made during the 15th, 16th and 17th National Party Congresses. The CPC Central Committee promulgated Preliminary Suggestions for Reform of the Judicial System and Working Mechanisms in 2004, followed by Suggestions of the CPC Central Committee’s Commission for Politics and Law on Several Issues on Deepening Reform of the Judicial System and Working Mechanisms in 2008, both of which included specific arrangements concerning the reform of the judicial system. In an effort to implement the requirements and arrangements set forth by the CPC Central Committee, the Supreme People’s Court issued outlines for judicial reform in 1999, 2005 and 2009 respectively. Since then, it has implemented 119 reform measures, all of which have achieved significant results.

 There are four principles that must be adhered to in the reform of the judicial system and its mechanisms. First, reforms must have the correct political orientation. Judicial reform is an important aspect of China’s political reform. Therefore, reforms must adhere to the leadership of the CPC, the people’s democratic dictatorship, and the system of people’s congresses. The goal of our reforms should be to establish a fair, efficient and authoritative judicial system that fully demonstrates the superiorities of China’s socialist judicial system. Second, reforms should take into account the realities of China during the primary stage of socialism. This is the fundamental basis of our efforts to reform and improve the judicial system, and is also a fundamental requirement that all reforms must meet. As we approach reform, we should strive to identify and continue fine legal traditions from China’s past while upholding successful practices that have been developed under the leadership of the CPC on the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics. At the same time, we should also seek to learn from the practices of other countries, and pay special attention to their new developments and ideas in the judicial systems. That said, we should never attempt to simply emulate the judicial systems of Western countries or simply copy Western models. Third, the purpose of our reforms should be to satisfy the needs of the people. In the process of judicial reform, we must adhere to the mass line, fully respect the people’s right to stay informed about, participate in, express views on, and oversee the judicial process, and listen to the demands of the people, as doing so will allow us to fully reflect the will of the people through our reforms. At the same time, we must place an emphasis on the effectiveness of reforms. This will involve addressing prominent issues that are detrimental to the impartiality of the judicial process and satisfying the needs of the people to the greatest possible extent. Moreover, we must ensure that the people are both the judges and the beneficiaries of all reforms. Fourth, reforms must be carried out in an orderly fashion and in accordance with the law. We will promote top to bottom reforms in a positive, progressive and step by step fashion and seek to promote active, assertive and creative participation in reform by judicial institutions and personnel at all levels. At the same time, we must avoid divisions, conflicting interests and arbitrary action in the judiciary in order to ensure that reforms are carried out in the right direction and on the basis of rational decision-making, coordinated action, and public satisfaction. 

 IV. The important role of people’s courts in the development of China’s socialist judicial system

 People’s courts are organs of the people’s democratic dictatorship. At the same time, the adjudication system is an important component of China’s socialist judicial system. People’s courts at all levels have devoted themselves to the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics. By carrying out their adjudicatory functions, they have laid down solid foundations for social and economic development in China over several decades. People’s courts have undergone a period of vigorous development since the launch of the reform and opening up drive, making significant progress in ideological development, organizational development, institutional development, personnel development, material development, and cultural development.

 The Supreme People’s Court has implemented a series of important ideas and approaches since 2008. After reviewing judicial experiences over recent decades, we have identified “serving the overall interests of the country and serving justice for the people” as the key theme for people’s courts. On this basis, we have further defined the relationship between the judiciary and the central tasks of the Party and the state, affirmed the conviction that people’s courts and people’s judges are there to serve the people, and ensured that the judiciary understands where judicial power comes from, who it should serve, and who it relies on. In the campaign to thoroughly study and apply the Scientific Outlook on Development, we have identified stringent management, public trust and the application of technology as the principles for the development of people’s courts, and have formed a consensus on how scientific development should be achieved. In the campaign to bolster the ranks of court cadres in all respects and deepen understanding of the system of core socialist value, we have identified “justice, integrity and service” as our core judicial values, and have taken steps to ensure that judges aspire to these values; during a period in which contradictions among the people have become more prominent, we have attempted to reinforce the role that the judiciary plays in resolving conflicts and promoting social harmony. On the basis of in-depth surveys and analysis, we have identified mediation as the preferred means of resolving conflicts, and have taken steps to combine the methods of mediation and adjudication in the course of judicial work. By reinforcing the idea of harmony in judicial practice, we have managed to more effectively balance social considerations with the principles of the law. In our response to the international financial crisis, we proposed the idea of an “active judiciary” in order to boost the role played by the judiciary as a guarantee of economic and social development. Based on a firm grasp of the nature and the laws of China’s socialist judicial system, we have become more aware of the role that the people’s judiciary should play, and have expanded the horizons of the people’s courts. These ideas and approaches have played an important role in improving China’s socialist judicial system, promoting justice in judicial practice, and safeguarding the interests of the general public.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.5, 2011)


Note: Author: President of the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China

 Related readings: 

 The Role of People’s Courts in China

 In accordance with the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, China has established a Supreme People’s Court, people’s courts at various local levels, and special people’s courts.

 The Supreme People’s Court is the highest judicial organ of the People’s Republic of China. It is responsible for hearing and deliberating cases, interpreting laws, and supervising adjudication by people’s courts at various local levels and by special people’s courts. It is also responsible for managing the judicial administration of courts throughout China as authorized by law.

 People’s courts at various local levels include higher people’s courts, intermediate people’s courts and primary people’s courts; special people’s courts include maritime courts and military courts. The Supreme People’s Court supervises adjudication by people’s courts at various local levels and by special people’s courts. People’s courts at higher levels supervise the administration of justice by those at lower levels.

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