Zhou addresses China-Central and Eastern Europe chief justices’ meeting on judicial reform
China’s judicial reform has entered a crucial stage, and Chinese courts will unswervingly push ahead with the reform in order to improve China’s judicial system and make new contributions to the rule of law, Zhou Qiang, head of China’s top court, said in a keynote speech at a symposium on judicial reform on May 4.
The symposium was part of the Conference of Presidents of the Supreme Courts of China and Central and Eastern European Countries held in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu province from May 4 to 5.
In October 2014, the Party’s central leadership made a major decision to promote the rule of law throughout the country, which marked a new stage in China’s rule of law, said Zhou, president of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).
The top judge said China is now implementing the rule of law as a fundamental principle, bringing unprecedented opportunities for overall judicial reform.
China is increasingly aware of the important role of law in state governance, and Chinese courts are shouldering greater responsibilities and harder tasks in promoting the application of law, maintaining fairness and justice and serving economic and social development, Zhou noted.
He vowed that courts will always work toward resolving problems, improving judicial credibility and satisfying people’s needs through deepening judicial reform and making efforts to remove barriers that may adversely affect judicial fairness or restrict judicial capability.
In 2013, China launched a new round of judicial reform. The SPC is implementing 65 measures to deepen reform of the court system, Zhou said. Efforts will be made to build a fair, highly efficient and credible socialist judicial system, which will have a far-reaching impact in China, he added.
Zhou said that court restructuring, along with jurisdictional reform, will be conducive to ensuring judicial fairness. Chinese courts are exploring ways to set up jurisdictions that are less dependent on administrative divisions in a bid to ensure that courts can independently exercise their judicial power according to law.
The setup of SPC circuit courts, which hear major cross-province commercial and civil cases, has played a positive role in facilitating litigation processes and promoting unified application of laws, he said. Efforts have also been made in the establishment of pilot cross-administrative division courts for addressing major cross-regional lawsuits in the fields of administrative litigation, civil and commercial disputes, environmental and resource protection, food and drug safety and some major criminal cases. Intellectual property courts have also been launched to improve trial capabilities in that specialized area and enhance judicial protection of intellectual property rights.
Reform of judicial procedures will make the judiciary more efficient, Zhou said. Top priority will be given to implementing an accountability mechanism and reforming judicial powers. Measures will also be taken to optimize human resources management. Judges will have assistants to help them so that they can concentrate more on exercising judicial powers to ensure the quality and efficiency of trials. Top judges at courts of various levels will take responsibility for cases of major significance or difficulty, Zhou said.
A new litigation system centering on trials will help better regulate judicial power. Zhou urged courts to implement such principles as presumption of innocence and exclusion of illegally obtained evidence to recognize trial courts’ decisive role in identifying facts, confirming evidence, protecting legal rights and upholding fairness and justice, as well as enhancing protection of human rights.
Rules of evidence should be fully implemented and the defendant’s legal rights should be protected according to law, he said. Also, mechanisms to prevent miscarriages of justice will be further improved.
In addition, lawyers’ professional rights will be better protected in accordance with law and more efforts will be made to facilitate their work, Zhou said.
Chinese courts will also tap information technology to increase judicial transparency and improve services to the general public. “Smart courts” now under construction will provide convenience to litigants and lawyers on the one hand, while assisting judges’ work, court management and judicial decision making on the other.
Furthermore, reform of judge management will help build up professionalism in the court system, Zhou said.
Last but not least, Zhou said an integration of top-level design and local applications will help ensure the reform is carried out according to law and in a steadily and orderly way. Moreover, China will draw from foreign countries’ achievements in this field.
Estonian Chief Justice Priit Pikamäe and President of the Supreme Court of Montenegro Vesna Medenica also delivered speeches at the session. After introducing their countries’ judicial systems and relevant reforms, they said reform is important in promoting judicial fairness, increasing transparency and raising the public’s satisfaction with the judiciary. Therefore, they added, different countries should advance contemporary judicial reform with a view to their own conditions in order to uphold justice and maintain social stability.