COURT ON THE MOVE: Judges of a circuit court mediate civil disputes between the herdsmen at a village in Kangle Town of Sunan Yugu Autonomous Prefecture in northwest China's Gansu Province on November 10 (WANG JIANG)
The Central Government has recently approved draft plans to set up circuit courts and courts with jurisdiction across different regions in a move to further ensure justice and judicial independence.
The plans, approved on November 2, will enable the Supreme People's Court (SPC) to set up circuit courts that represent its authority, and permit the establishment of cross-regional courts and procuratorates, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The establishment of circuit courts aims to help the judicial authorities better connect with communities and make it more convenient for the parties involved in cases to have their voices heard during the proceedings.
Meanwhile, the setting up of cross-regional courts and procuratorates is expected to help prevent interference from administrative authorities during trials. The ultimate goal is to form a judicial structure in which special cases will be heard at the cross-regional courts and common cases will be heard at regional courts. The circuit courts, cross-regional courts and procuratorates will first act in some regions as part of an effort to form a system ready to be enforced nationwide.
The decision to set up the circuit courts of the top court and interregional courts and procuratorates was made during the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October 2014. Advancing the rule of law was a key issue at the meeting.
Hu Yunteng, a member of the judicial committee of the top court, said that the circuit courts will represent the top court, which means decisions made by circuit courts will be final. Hu said the top court has to give verdicts to more than 10,000 cases each year and the number is increasing. "The measure will also alleviate the pressure on the court and give it more time to carry out judicial interpretations," he said.
An innovative move
On October 28, after the fourth plenum, the 18th CPC Central Committee released a communiqué, in which the Party promised sweeping judicial reforms including setting up circuit courts and establishing courts and prosecutors' offices operating across regions.
Legal experts say the decision will promote judicial independence and reduce interference by local party and government officials.
"The proposals are a breakthrough in China's judicial reform as they will significantly lessen local officials' control over the legal system," said Fan Chongyi, a criminal procedure expert with the China University of Political Science and Law.
"Both measures together will help to effectively sever the direct connection between local judges and local officials," said Zhang Qianfan, a professor of constitutional law at Peking University.
"Circuit courts can improve a country's rule of law through a system of regional law courts that overlap multiple jurisdictions. This separates the courts from local governmental administration and therefore gives local judges more independence from officials," Zhang said.
Ji Weidong, former Dean of Shanghai Jiaotong University's KoGuan Law School, said the plan to set up circuit courts aims at enhancing the power of a unified judicial system.
As a special agency under the Supreme Court, circuit courts will coordinate with local judicial bodies to provide legal protection to the public, he said.
In China, the personnel and property of local courts and prosecutor's offices are supervised by the local government, creating a hurdle for judicial independence, Ji said.
Bi Yuqian, Director of the Civil Procedure Law Research Institute under the China University of Political Science and Law, agreed. He said the fact that the country's administrative regions and judicial regions coincide contribute greatly to regional protectionism.
"The regional courts are relying on the regional governments as their financial sources. Ensuring their independence is a must to ensure the fairness of their judicial procedures," Bi said.
To reduce intervention by local officials in courts, cross-regional judicial bodies and practices must be set up and the circuit courts will play a role in it, Ji said.