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Carl Minzner on Legal Reform in China

Submitted by on January 17 – 2013No Comment

Carl Minzner, Fordham Law’s resident Chinese Law expert—who is currently teaching a class on the subject—wrote a recent analysis for Asia Times on the changing legal climate in China.  Minzner pointed out that the legal profession in China has long been opposed to legal reform, and recently public interest lawyers (often advocates of reform) have faced severe pressure, harassment and even disappearances or torture. Minzner went on to note several changes that evidence a “rule-of-law” reform.

Chinese leaders may deploy rule-of-law norms strategically to curtail the power of party political-legal authorities. . . . [T]he 2012 white paper marks a sharp break with the version issued just a year ago. The politicized language regarding a “socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics,” a hallmark in Party political-legal pronouncements over recent years, has receded. The white paper clearly states that the current round of legal reforms begun in 2008 (not coincidentally, the year that Wang Shengjun, the current conservative head of the Supreme People’s Court, assumed office) is “basically finished.” Even more noteworthy, there is not a single reference in the entire document to the Chinese Communist Party.

Minzner did emphasize that he wanted to avoid overstating the importance of the 2012 white paper and highlighted several markers that would indicate further reform:

Since it remains highly unlikely that central authorities will announce the creation of meaningful electoral or legal checks on party power, here are some other potential markers to watch over the coming year:

  • Whether personnel reforms raise the bureaucratic profile of the Chinese judiciary vis-à-vis that of the public security organs;
  • Whether concrete performance evaluation measures facing local officials are altered, particularly the hard-line emphasis in recent years on maintaining social stability and controlling citizen petitioners;
  • Whether the content of official “model judge” propaganda campaigns – which has shifted in recent years away from an emphasis on judicial professionalism in favor of revived Maoist populism – is altered to reflect the new language coming from the center;
  • Whether official pressure and repression of public interest lawyers is reduced.

Read the full article in the Asia Times Online

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