October 22, 2005
Uneven distribution of lawyers in China
It won't surprise most readers to discover that legal talent, whether on the bench or at the bar, is distributed unevenly around China. Zhu Suli (朱蘇力), among others, has discussed the problems of staffing rural courts in Song Fa Xia Xiang (送法下鄉) (a very fine review of which has been published by Frank Upham in the Yale Law Journal).
The June 8th edition of the People's Daily (人民日報) carried an article on the distribution of lawyers with some interesting information. According to the article, China now has 114,000 lawyers and 11,691 law firms. China's lawyers annually handle over 1.5 million court cases and over 800,000 non-litigious matters. However, lawyers are still thin on the ground in the central and western parts of China. In 206 counties, there are no lawyers at all. (As of Feb. 2004, China had 2,861 county-level divisions. [Source])
China's report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
The advance, unedited version of the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on China's Second Periodic report (covering the mainland and Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions) can be accessed (in English only) here (PDF file).
Other documents pertaining to the session (including the above-mentioned report, China's recent reply to the Committee's List of Issues, its delegation composition, etc.), can be accessed in Chinese, English, and French under the heading "China with Hong Kong SAR and Macau SAR" here.
October 21, 2005
Zhengzhou court experiments with system of precedent
The October 20, 2005 issue of Legal System Daily (法制日报) has an interesting report of an experiment with case precedent that has been going on since August 2002 in a basic-level people's court in Zhongyuan District in Zhengzhou.
The perceived need for the system arose when a consumer sought to take advantage of a provision of China's consumer protection law providing for double damages against sellers of fake products by deliberately buying identical fake medicine in three separate jurisdictions and then bringing suit in each. The suit was rejected in each case, but on different grounds each time, despite having identical facts, pleadings, and evidence. The results of this natural experiment struck many as indicative of a problem that should be solved.
According to the report, the court's adjudication committee selects particular cases it wants to serve as precedents (先例). The details of these cases are made available on an electronic touch-screen in the courthouse building. Visitors can then see whether the court has dealt with cases similar to their own and assess their chances of winning should they decide to file suit.
The influence of the selected precedents on judicial decisionmaking is ambiguously put (in my view, deliberately so, given the sensitivity of the issue): precedents are to have "a certain guiding significance" (一定指导意义) and have "a certain binding force" (一定的约束力) on judges hearing similar cases. A judge hearing a similar case who proposes not to follow the precedent must report to the adjudication committee, and failure to follow a precedent without a proper reason will, where the judgment is later deemed wrong, result in disciplinary measures for the judge.
The system is praised for having contributed to judicial efficiency and predictability and for having reduced corruption (by making the law more certain). Not everyone thinks it's a good idea, however: He Weifang of Peking University's Faculty of Law criticises the system because in requiring the judges in one court to follow that court's previous rulings, whatever is happening elsewhere in the country, it creates a local consistency at the expense of the larger national consistency he sees as more necessary.
October 20, 2005
Blakemore Foundation grants for Chinese language study
The Blakemore Foundation offers grants for advanced (i.e., non-beginner) Asian language study to American citizens and permanent residents of the United States who have a college degree and plan to use an Asian language in their career. Grants can be made for one year (Freeman Fellowships) or for less than one year (refresher grants). For more information, see the Foundation's web site here. I am posting about these grants here because they are ideal for lawyers who already have some Chinese, but just need that little extra boost to get them to the level at which they can work comfortably in a Chinese-language environment, and that kind of candidate would be very competitive.
October 19, 2005
More on Yahoo and Shi Tao case
Yahoo's role in releasing information to PRC authorities leading to the conviction of journalist Shi Tao, previously discussed on this blog, continues to dog the company. Now Liu Xiaobo, described by the Financial Times as a "veteran dissident", has written an open letter to Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang criticizing Yahoo for its actions (Financial Times report here). The Financial Times report states in part:
"Major foreign companies should not be helping the Chinese government to limit freedom of speech on the internet," Mr Liu told the Financial Times. "This is shameless."
Mr Yang, who recently sealed a $1bn (€830m, £570m) link-up with the Chinese commerce website Alibaba, confirmed last month Yahoo had assisted the action against Mr Shi, but said it had no choice but to provide information about him as part of a "legal process".
It has been pointed out in many commentaries that the "local laws" to which Yahoo's Hong Kong subsidiary - the company that released the information - are subject are the laws of Hong Kong, not those of mainland China, at least with respect to police demands for information. It is not impossible that Yahoo's Hong Kong subsidiary could have been subject in some way to PRC law, but so far Yahoo has not explained how.
October 18, 2005
Symposium announcement: "China at a Crossroads: Searching for a Balanced Approach to Development"
I have received the following announcement from the U.S. China Law Society:
The Harvard East Asian Legal Studies Program and the U.S. China Law Society will host a symposium entitled "China at a Crossroads: Searching for a Balanced Approach to Development," on November 5-6, 2005 at Harvard Law School.
China, much like the U.S., has become a society of haves and have-nots. According to many academics specializing in China, the wealth disparity we see in today's China – based on a comparison of the Gini coefficients – is greater than that of the U.S. and second only to those of Latin American and sub-Saharan countries.
The symposium will focus on searching for a balanced approach to development promoting both efficiency and equality. The goal of this symposium is to examine systematically China's inequality from social, economic, legal and political perspectives and to generate constructive ideas and policy recommendations.
Among the speakers invited are He Weifang, one of the best-known constitutional scholar in China today; Li Shi, a pioneer in the study of the income-gap in China; and William Hsiao, the chief architect of a number of innovative programs in healthcare both inside and outside China. Some of the West's most prominent Sinologists, including Roderick MacFarquhar and Elizabeth Perry will moderate the panels. Dean Elena Kagan of Harvard Law School will welcome the attendees at the symposium opening. For a complete list of speakers, please go to http://uschinalawsociety.org/symposium/speakers.htm.
For more information on the symposium and how to register and participate, please visit our website at: http://www.uschinalawsociety.org/symposium or email U.S. China Law Society at email@example.com.
October 17, 2005
Human rights organizations back in from the wilderness?
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will be pleased to know that they are being cited as authoritative sources of information on human rights issues in the PRC press. In this case, however, it's their concerns over due process issues in Saddam Hussein's upcoming trial that is being reported. Well, it's a start.
On a serious note, the Chinese government - or at least some parts of it - have been surprisingly receptive to international human rights NGOs recently. Last June, a 2-day seminar on human rights was held in Beijing to which representatives of Amnesty International, Article 19 (a British free-speech group), and Human Rights in China were invited. Regrettably, not all branches of the government were on board in this case: the HRIC representative, Sharon Hom, was subject to an effort by plainclothes security men to take her from her hotel for questioning (they ultimately failed in the attempt to remove her physically, but did question her for an hour on a variety of topics). News report here.