Friday, January 6, 2006
The China Youth Daily (中国青年报) recently posted a summary of the 10 most influential legal cases of 2005. The cases were selected by the paper's editorial board in conjuction with Qinghua University's Center for Constitutional and Civil Rights. Here's a brief precis:
1. The Nie Shubin (聂树斌) and She Xianglin (佘祥林) cases. These are miscarriages of justice in death penalty cases that drew attention to problems in the criminal justice system in general and in the system of imposing death sentences in particular. Perhaps in response, the Supreme People's Court announced it would take back the power to review all death sentences, previously delegated in part to provincial-level courts.
2. The Zhao Yan (赵燕) case. Zhao Yan was a tourist from Tianjin who was beaten by US border officials at Niagara Falls. A criminal case was brought against one; he was acquitted. The case aroused a great deal of attention in China. The interesting thing about its inclusion in this list is that all the lessons the editors draw from it are clearly aimed at the Chinese system. For example: the case (and what was apparently a problematic record on the part of the defendant) was widely reported in the US media; the victim received prompt medical attention, with all her expenses paid by a victims' aid group; and the judicial system did not refuse to hear the case simply because the offender was a government official.
3. The hysterectomy case. In April in Jiangsu Province, two girls of about 13 with mental disabilities were sent by the state home where they resided to hospital to have a hysterectomy. The reason given by the officials of the home was apparently that this "would save a lot of trouble later on." Apparently the practice is common. The director and vice director of the home, as well as the two operating doctors, were put on trial from intentional injury (故意伤害罪). No verdict has been given yet.
4. The Du Baoliang (杜宝良) case. This is the case that brought to light the practice of the Beijing traffic police of imposing fines without notice. Thus, fines for repeat offenses (for example, illegal parking) could mount up to ridiculous levels without the offender ever knowing he was doing something wrong. You only find out when you go for your annual license renewal. For more information, see my previous post.
5. The Tianjin entry fee case. In this case, Qinghua University law PhD Li Gang (李刚) sued the city of Tianjin for imposing an entry fee on those entering the city by road. He lost - the court hearing the case ruled that it was not a specific administrative act subject to challenge. He also sued the city of Shanghai for imposing a similar entry fee. The commentary supports Li on the grounds that roads should inherently be supplied free of charge by government, and that imposing a fee (at least on roads that were not funded by a special-purpose loan) amounts to an illegitimate shifting of costs to the consumer.
6. The lawsuit of Gu Chujun (顾雏军) vs. Lang Xianping (郎咸平). Gu was the chairman of the board of Kelong, one of the many Chinese companies whose name is now associated with financial scandal. In August, 2004, he was accused by Lang Xianping (Larry Lang), an economist and commentator on financial affairs based in Hong Kong, of appropriating state property by taking advantage of his position at Kelong. He responded by suing in Hong Kong. The following year, it was announced that he and six others were under investigation for economic crimes.
7. The Yu Shanlan (喻山澜) case. This was an interesting piece of public interest litigation. The plaintiff sued the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China for overcharging him for a service relating to a driver's license that only it could lawfully perform (i.e., it had a monopoly). The lawsuit claimed unjust enrichment. The plaintiff won and received damages of Y69.20, but the result was that the bank had to reduce its fees for this service to all comers.
8. The Huang Jing (黄静) case. Huang Jing was a girl whose naked corpse was found in her school dormitory room. A ball of toilet paper nearby had semen on it. The investigation into the cause of death was bungled many times and only moved forward by continuous pressure from the family. This case led to reforms in the system of forensic investigations.
9. The bribery cases of Han Guizhi (韩桂芝) and Tian Fengshan (田凤山). Han and Tian were two officials who were convicted of accepting bribes; the significance of these cases may lie in their seniority. Han was a former chairman of the Heilongjiang Provincial People's Consultative Conference; Tian had been the governor of Heilongjiang and the Minister of State Land and Natural Resources.
10. The Zhang Weisheng (张衡生) case. Zhang was a young man in Hunan who was struck by a motorcycle while walking beside the road near Xiantan City. The local people made calls to various emergency numbers, but nobody lifted a finger to help. Eventually the Xiangtan City police department disciplined 11 of its members, and the family received Y170,000 in compensation.