Updated: 2005-02-25 02:40
President of the Supreme People's Court and Chief Justice Xiao Yang noted China has made remarkable headway in protecting human rights during the justice progress in recent years.
In an interview published in the latest issue of the Human Rights magazine, Xiao Yang said the Second Session of the 10th National People's Congress made amendments to the country's Constitution in March 2004, adding "The State respects and protects human rights" into this fundamental law.
|Chief Justice Xiao[L] Yang visits the site of the Three Gorges Project on June 17, 2004. [newsphoto]|
Xiao described it as an "important milestone in human rights development in China," adding that it marked a deeper understanding of how to protect human rights with the Constitution and the law.
He said it was of great significance in directing the work of the courts.
By writing "human rights protection" into the Constitution, more is demanded of the courts and they have had to make changes, said Xiao.
The Chief Justice said that in 2003, the Supreme People's Court applied the principle of "building up the Party and exercising political power in the interests of the people" upheld by the Communist Party of China to law administration.
It also advocated "administering justice for the common interests of the people."
It demanded all courts in the country take measures to help people take legal action and lower litigation costs.
It also tried to solve the problem of some people finding it difficult to take legal action. The Supreme People's Court took 23 specific measures and courts at all levels also adopted practical measures such as mobile courts which have won widespread approval. In recent years, courts have taken further steps so groups with difficult financial circumstances can take legal action, according to Xiao.
For example, over the past two years, courts throughout the country have provided judicial assistance to more than 460,000 people.
They have reduced and postponed the payment of litigation costs amounting to more than 2 billion yuan (US$241 million).
Xiao stressed that the rights of all people should be protected by the law and a balance struck between safeguarding social order and protecting the rights of individuals.
Legal rights should also be protected within the law for people who have been deprived of their personal freedom or people whose rights are restricted, such as suspects in detention and prisoners. China has implemented a policy of "combining punishment with leniency" and opposing heavy penalties and severe punishments.
The nation also strictly adheres to the rules when dealing with the death sentence procedure. For minor offences, probation is the sentence in most cases. In 2003 and 2004, there were more than 260,000 cases of probation.
With regard to controlling criminals, China upholds the principle of "combining punishment with correction."
It has reduced prison terms and released some criminals on parole who have shown remorse. In 2003 and 2004, courts cut prison terms and released on parole nearly 100,000 prison inmates.
In many of his speeches recently, the Chief Justice has stressed that strictly observing the legal time limit for hearing cases is a vital part of punishing crimes according to the law and safeguarding human rights.
"Justice coming late is injustice," he said. "A defendant has the right to get timely and fair judgment. The time limit for a hearing has been set for all cases, especially for criminal cases, to enable defendants to know as soon as possible whether they are guilty." Xiao admitted that in practice, for various reasons, the hearing of some cases has dragged and that is why there is still the problem of extended detention, in some situations worse than others.
To solve the problem, the Supreme People's Court demanded all courts to clear up cases of overdue detention. From 2003 to the end of 2004, the courts cleared 4,968 cases of overdue detention, involving 10,000 defendants. The courts have established a reporting system to exchange information about the time limits for hearing cases in order to prevent the problem recurring, reducing and even putting an end to cases of overdue detention.
Xiao was asked how Chinese courts have protected the rights of people in cases involving the common people suing government officials.
Such hearing had long been in operation in China even before the country officially introduced the administrative procedure law in 1989, although there were no specific rules on such hearing.
In 2003, the courts of the country handled more than 87,000 first hearing cases and in the January-November period of 2004, the courts accepted more than 85,000 cases. More than 20 per cent of the common people won their cases.
Xiao said that the institutionalization of "common people suing government officials" can be seen as progress in the civilization of Chinese society and indicates China's human rights protection is part of the country's legal foundations. January 1, 2005 marked the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the State Compensation Law and the Chief Justice reviewed it. The law involves giving compensation to citizens, businesses and other organizations that have suffered personal or property damage due to illegal administrative decisions and case handling by State organs and their functionaries.
"The introduction of the system was a specific move to respect and protect human rights and it was of great significance to make State organs and their functionaries act legally and protect the lawful rights of citizens, businesses and other organizations," said Xiao.
Since the implementation of the law in 1995, courts have performed their duties well and handled with great care all kinds of compensation cases. Over the past decade, there have been 18,000 such cases. The results show more than one-third of the plaintiffs in those cases received compensation.
Xiao Yang said that "justice and efficiency" are the main themes of the work of the courts. To ensure the law is just and efficient requires many specialized judges. Starting from 2002 when the Supreme People's Court advanced the idea of building a contingent of professional judges, everything has been going on well.
China has introduced a national law examination which the judges have to pass. Most of the 180,000 judges working in the courts have received training in law colleges and schools. Also, the Supreme People's Court issued in 2002 the Basic Norms for Professional Ethics of Judges, a guide to building a contingent of professional judges.
On human rights dialogue and co-operation with foreign and international organizations, Xiao said China has, over the years, carried out extensive dialogue and co-operation with foreign and international organizations to exchange views on human rights.
In 2004 alone, the Supreme People's Court received high-ranking officials from the United States, Britain, Australia, Norway and UN human rights organizations. It told them about the tremendous progress China has made in the legal arena and exchanged views on issues such as the review of death sentences.