What to expect from China’s judicial reform in 2016?

Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC), delivers a report on the SPC's work during the third plenary meeting of the fourth session of China's 12th National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13. Photo: Xinhua

China’s judicial reform was first mentioned during the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in 2013, and was launched in June 2014. In the past one and a half years of reform, China’s top leaders have made a lot of efforts to promote the reform in order to realize the goal of judicial independence, transparency, and justice.

The presidents of China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), the top two organs to lead the country’s judicial reform, delivered a work report Sunday at the ongoing session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.

The SPC in 2015 adjudicated on 14,135 cases out of the 15,985 cases filed, an increase of 43% compared with the previous year, said Zhou Qiang, president of the SPC, adding that the court has made great efforts to realize the goal of making people feel that justice is done in every case.

The two work reports not only provide a general review of judicial work of 2015, but also address the highlights of judicial reform in 2016.

Safeguarding national security

"Chinese courts will well implement the laws on state security and counter-terrorism and severely punish terrorists and secessionists," said Zhou.

Last year, Chinese courts convicted 1,419 criminals for harming state security, including those taking part in terrorist attacks and secessionist activities, in 1,084 cases.

Prosecutors also made many efforts in prosecuting suspects involved in terrorist attacks, according to Cao Jianming, president of the SPP. The SPP supervised prosecutors in Xinjiang and Tibet last year in handling security-related problems, and worked with the SPC and the Ministry of Public Security to tackle terrorist attacks and criminal cases involving religious extremists.

This year, the SPP will firmly crack down on hostile attempts to infiltrate the country, subvert the government and cause destruction, terrorist attacks, and secessionist and extremist activities.

Rehabilitation of wrongful convictions

China will continue to complete its legal system to correct wrongful convictions and prevent injustices from the source, said Cao.

Last year, the SPP dismissed 10,384 cases which should not have been put on record. The SPP also declined to order arrest of 131,675 people for insufficient evidence, and decided not to try 25,778 people for the same reason.

The courts also reviewed more than 1,300 criminal cases and corrected a number of wrongful convictions, according to Zhou.

The SPP will continue to investigate each case carefully this year to avoid wrongful punishment, said Cao.

International anti-corruption drive

China will continue to push its international anti-corruption drive this year in an effort to further promote its goal of catching both the “tigers” and “flies”, said Cao during the plenary.

China will increase legal cooperation with relevant countries and regions so as to create more channels to track criminals.

A total of 124 officials suspected of criminal acts have been repatriated from 34 countries since October 2014. China will also crack down on illegal underground banks which transfer massive amounts of capital to overseas countries through cooperation with other counties.

Punishing illegal peer-to-peer lending

The SPC said it will strengthen study and trial guidance of Internet-based financial cases in 2016.

China's court system handled a total of 1.42 million cases involving peer-to-peer (P2P) lending in 2015, according to the work report of the SPC, involving 820.75 billion yuan ($126.4 billion).

Chinese courts concluded 58,000 cases involving illegal fund-raising, financial fraud and other crimes, and convicted 72,000 people, Zhou added.

The SPC last year provided judicial explanation on P2P lending, recognizing lending among enterprises with conditions, in a bid to satisfy the demands of small and medium-sized companies for investment and financing, according to the report.

Illegal fund-raising through Internet P2P platforms was a key issue that the SPP addressed in 2015, according to Cao.

The SPP prosecuted 12,791 individuals for illegal fund-raising, fraud and other economic crimes, especially the case concerning Internet-based P2P broker Ezubao, one of the biggest cases of its kind in terms of the amount of money involved.

International maritime judicial center

China will set up an international maritime judicial center in its latest bid to protect national sovereignty and maritime rights, according to the SPC work report.

“Courts across China shall work to implement the national strategy of building the country into a ‘maritime power’,” said Zhou, “We must resolutely safeguard China's national sovereignty, maritime rights and other core interests, and improve the work of maritime courts and build an international maritime judicial center.”

According to Zhou, some 16,000 maritime cases were concluded by Chinese courts last year, the largest number in the world. China is also home to the largest number of maritime courts worldwide, he added.

One notable case, Zhou said, involved a Chinese fishing boat Minxiayu 01971 which was damaged in a collision with a Panama-flagged cargo ship in waters off the Diaoyu Islands in September 2014. The owner of the Chinese ship brought the case to Xiamen maritime court in southeastern China which was closed via mediation.

The case clearly demonstrated China's jurisdiction over the region, he said.

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