Pioneer of mediation focuses on community
When she graduated from college in 1994, 20-year-old Zhu Zhengxu was confident she would be a good judge.
She had achieved high grades, undergone demanding internships and had pored over legal columns to find the right combination of words for her carefully crafted written verdicts.
In fact, her verdicts were so proficient that they were selected by the national judiciary newspaper as example essays.
Yet life as a judge in rural Central China's Henan province proved difficult, especially when the locals began to complain that they could not understand the words Zhu used.
Worse, most villagers were poor and had little education, which adversely affected their ability to build a legal case or hire a decent lawyer.
Zhu found that her judgments, though following the letter of the law, would almost always favor those who were rich and well educated, because they could hire better attorneys and build a better case.
"That's justice on paper but not justice in reality," she said, "We needed to think of a solution or people would stop trusting the rule of law."
To combat this problem, Zhu introduced a system of mediation in her court that was also designed to make the process friendlier, as she had often witnessed legal battles over minor disputes turn good neighbors into bitter enemies.
Village elders, along with other members of the community who were held in high regard, were asked to act as mediators in certain disputes before a final ruling was made.
"You need a good community to have justice and doing nothing else but making stone-cold rulings won't help us build one," said Zhu.
In Naodian People's Court, where Zhu has served since 2007, they have about 40 such mediators. Thanks to their efforts, scores of cases have been amicably resolved before the court could make a final ruling.
Zhu always insists on being a part of the mediation process so that she can see justice being served. When a litigant insists or a judgment from the court is deemed necessary, she will make a ruling. Mediation should not be done at the cost of justice, she said.
The judge's reputation won her enough votes to be elected as a deputy of the NPC in 2012. Her pioneering efforts were further recognized by the Supreme People's Court in May, when she received the National Exemplar Judge award.
Zhu's proposals include strengthening labor protection and improving the selection process for judicial staff. She would like to see better differentiation between these staff, such as judges and procurators, and administrative staff in courts and procuratorates. "It is our common wish to have the rule of law", she said, "that needs our joint efforts."
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