Posts tagged: Criminal Law

China’s First Gay Marriage Case: Pyrrhic Victory for its Lawyer?

By , January 20, 2016

Will these fake gay marriages in China become real?

For China’s LGBT community, Tuesday, January 5, 2016 proved to be a historic day: the first case challenging the ban on gay marriage was accepted by a Chinese court. While it might not sound like a triumph, in a legal system ultimately run by the Chinese Communist Party, getting a case officially “accepted’ is usually considered a major step forward on the road to victory.

Or is it? Does this “case acceptance” signal a regime that is ready to accept gay marriage? Or is there something more? Given the recent criticism of the attorney who is handling the case, likely not.

In China, A Court “Accepting” Your Complaint is Not Given

In the United States, filing a court case is exclusively a technical affair. You bring your summons, complaint and filing fee to the court’s clerk office. The clerk, almost always a non-lawyer, might examine the papers to ensure you signed the summons and the complaint, that you brought enough copies and that the check is the right amount, but as long as your ducks are in a row paper-wise, the clerk will accept your case, give it an index number and then spin the wheel to assign a judge. Your case is now in the system and will be heard by a judge. All substantive and procedural arguments – that your claims are bogus, that you sued the wrong person, that you are outside the time frame to file the suit or that you don’t have enough evidence – will be raised by the other side, through a motion and hearing before the trial judge.

Let’s file a case!

But since the early 1990s, China has been different from the U.S. (see Nanping Liu & Michelle Liu, Justice without Judges: The Case Filing Division in the PRC (2011). Under China’s Civil Procedure Law (which governs cases between two private entities) and China’s Administrative Procedure Law (which governs lawsuits brought against a government agency or actor), filing a case, even if your papers are technically proper, is insufficient to get it in the court system. Instead, the Case Filing Division (立案庭), staffed by judges, would examine some of the substantive and procedural aspects of your case – does the plaintiff have an interest in the matter, is there a specific defendant, are there specific facts, claims and causes of action and is the case brought in proper court, geographically (Civil Procedure Law, Art. 108; Administrative Procedure Law, Art. 41). All of these issues, which in the United States would be raised in a motion to dismiss, would be determined by the judges in the Case Filing Division, behind closed doors and generally with no argument from either side. If the Case Filing Division rejects your case, it does so with a mere cite to the law and with little to no explanation.

It was this lack of transparency that proved problematic in more politically-charged cases. With a Party-controlled legal system, the Party was able to use the Case Filing Division to reject cases (or just have them sit there without ever issuing a decision) so as to ensure that certain issues would never have a public airing by reaching a courtroom. While some experts estimate that only 1 to 2% of cases are rejected by the Case Filing Division, in a country the size of China, that amounts to tens of thousands of cases a year. So for a more controversial case to make it through the Case Filing Division, that was a good sign.

Recent Changes to the Case Filing System

Coat of arms for the Supreme People’s Court

But starting in May 2015, that calculus may no longer apply. Likely sensing that denying access to the courts is not the best way to raise the people’s confidence in their court system, in early 2015, the Supreme People’s Court (“SPC”) made reform of the Case Filing Division a major focus of its agenda. On May 1, 2015, new regulations on case filing took effect.

Under the new regulations, the Case Filing Division no longer “reviews” any of the merits of the case. Rather it’s role is just to “register” the complaint after the Division ensures that the complaint is compliant with the technical aspects of the law. Decisions whether to register the complaint are encouraged to be made “on the spot” (SPC Case Filing Regs, Art. 2 & 8). If more time is needed, then the Division must follow the statutory deadlines of responding to the request. If any review demonstrates that the complaint does not meet the technical requirements, the Case Filing Division shall issue a written statement explaining all the deficiencies (so no more piece meal requests for more information from the party that was usually used to needless delay the decision on whether to accept the case), and affording the party the opportunity to amend the complaint so as to meet the case filing standards (SPC Case Filing Regs, Art. 7).

It’s under these new regulations that China’s first gay marriage case was accepted by the Furong district court in the city of Changsha in central China. According to a press release from the Chinese non-profit, Yirenping[1], plaintiff Sun Wenlin (pronounced Swen When-leen) sought to bring a complaint against Furong District’s Civil Affairs Bureau which, in June, denied his and his boyfriend’s application for a marriage certificate. After facing difficulty finding a lawyer to take his case, Sun finally found one, the noted civil rights lawyer Shi Fulong (pronounced Shi Foo-lung). On December 16, 2015 Shi attempted to file his client’s complaint. Although not accepted on the spot, after amending it at the suggestion of the Case Filing Division to add his boyfriend as co-plaintiff, on January 5, 2016, Furong court accepted Sun’s lawsuit. A decision must be rendered within six months.

Case Accepted, But Far From Won – Civil Rights Lawyer Shi Fulong Criticized

Lawyer Shi Fulong

Since Sun’s case was accepted, the Chinese state-run media has openly – and often positively – covered this milestone. Not the usual M.O. for a politically-charged case against a government agency. But does this mean that China is ready to permit gay marriage?

Highly unlikely. For the Chinese state-run press, the positive focus has been the success of the new case filing system; that even a case that seeks to permit gay marriage is now accepted by the courts. And for sure, that is something that should be celebrated.

But more recently, in questioning the ethics of attorney Shi Fulong in taking the case, the Chinese press has signaled that the case will not be won. Given the current climate, namely the wholesale detention, arrest and suppression of China’s civil rights lawyers, the fact that there was still a lawyer to take this politically-charged case is shocking. But Shi Fulong is not one to avoid hard cases. Shi has represented Falun Gong practitioners, people fighting the illegal taking of their land, and in July 2015, during the mass detention and disappearance of hundreds of civil rights lawyers, signed a petition calling for their release.

It’s within this current crackdown that Shi bravely agreed to represent the gay couple. But that has not been without its potential cost. Last week, China’s state-run Legal Daily criticized him for continuing to represent his clients. In an op-ed by Hao Tiechuan, a Party member, former government official and law professor, the Legal Daily cites to various provisions of China’s Constitution and the Marriage Law to argue that, contrary to the complaint’s statements, the law is clear that marriage is only between a man and a woman. But unfortunately for lawyer Shi Fulong, the op-ed does not leave the case alone on its legal merits. Rather, it attacks the professional ethics of Shi in taking the case and continuing to represent the parties. The editorial argues that Shi has disrespected the law and filed a baseless lawsuit, all in violation of China’s Lawyers Law. Violations of the Lawyers Law could lead to a monetary fine and suspension or disbarment.

While alarming, on some level Shi Fulong is lucky that the op-ed does not cite more although he is certainly bordering on the danger zone. Likely in an attempt to contain China’s civil rights lawyers, in the past couple of years, the Chinese’s government has sought to penalize and contain the zealous advocacy that is required of lawyers, especially civil rights lawyers. In the Supreme People’s Court’s (SPC) recent Court Reform Plan, issued in February 2015, the SPC makes it a point to penalize what it considers false lawsuits. Paragraph 58 specifically commands the SPC to “[e]stablish record and discipline systems for good faith litigation. Punish false lawsuits, malicious lawsuits and unreasonably entangling litigation acts in accordance with law. . . .”

But what the SPC aspires to contain, recent amendments to the Criminal Law criminalizes. Effective November 1, 2015, China’s Criminal Law, Article 307(1), now provides up to a three year prison term for “[t]hose raising a civil lawsuit on concocted facts and seriously obstructing judicial order or seriously infringing on the lawful rights and interests of others. . . .”

For both of these admonitions, “false litigation” and “lawsuits on concocted facts” are left undefined. Meaning it will be in the discretion of the court – or more realistically the Chinese government and Communist Party – to determine what these terms mean. Which indicates that there will be a certain political determination involved.

What would Thurgood Marshall say about what is happening in China?

But as a civil rights lawyer, Shi Fulong’s job is to challenge the current law and push it to its limits. It was this type of lawyering that in 2003, caused China to eliminate the archaic and unjust custody and repatriation system. In the words of civil rights attorney and U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, civil rights lawyers should “do what you thinks is right and let the law catch up.” Here though, by citing to the Lawyers Law and questioning Shi’s ethics in pursing this case, the state-run media seeks to further squash any hope that China’s civil rights lawyers can independently push Chinese society – or more apt, the Chinese government – forward. But I guess we have to remember that the world in which this was possible in China – namely 2000 to 2005 – has long since died. Fortunately for the Chinese people, there are still lawyers willing to wage this battle. And hopefully for Shi, the Legal Daily op-ed is as bad as it gets.

 

[1] Yirenping’s press release is on file with China Law & Policy.

The Anatomy of a Crackdown: China’s Assault on its Human Rights Lawyers

By , October 18, 2015

PlightandprospectscoverWhen the Chinese government detained, harassed and disappeared over 280 human rights lawyers and legal activists in July 2015, the international community took notice. These simultaneous, country-wide, nighttime and early morning raids made front page news in the United States, often described as the Chinese government’s attempts to eradicate cause lawyering from its shores.

But as the Leitner Center and the Committee To Support Chinese Lawyers‘ new and seminal report Plight and Prospects: The Landscape for Cause Lawyers in China reveals, in some ways, these arrests and detentions are the least of the human rights lawyers’ worries. Instead, Plight and Prospects makes clear that over the past five years, the Chinese government has quietly and methodically used a more effective means to limit the space for cause lawyers: the law.

Although the Chinese government still relies on extra-judicial measures such a illegal detentions, torture, constant surveillance when “free,” and pressures on families, employers and even landlords in an attempt to destroy the lawyer’s life, Plight and Prospects underscores that soon these extra-judicial methods will be unnecessary. Through amendments to the Lawyers Law (amended 2007), the Criminal Law (amended 2015), the Criminal Procedure Law (amended 2012), the National Security Law (passed 2015) and through the annual lawyer licensing procedure, the Chinese government can limit the ability of cause lawyers to practice and still pay lip service to “the rule of law.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping

As Plight and Prospects points out, under President Xi Jinping (pronounced See Gin-ping) there has been a stepped-up effort to enshrine in law methods that will effectively break the cause lawyering movement. But even before Xi took power in 2012, there were already concrete efforts in the Chinese government to use the law to limit human rights lawyers’ advocacy.

Take for example, the Lawyers Law. Amended in 2007 and believed to provide the profession with greater protection to practice law, it has proven to be a double-edged sword. Sure Articles 36 and 37 of the Lawyers Law maintain that the lawyers “rights to debate or a defense shall be protected in accordance with the law,” but Article 49, which lists the examples of lawyers’ conduct subject to punishment, increased the number of categories from four to nine with the 2007 amendments. Added to the Lawyers Law as Article 49(6) was instances where a lawyers “disrupts the order of a court . . . or interferes with the normal conduct of litigation or arbitration.” Vague and unclear, this provision could be used to limit the courtroom advocacy of lawyers who take cases the government just does not like.

Lawyers Liu Wei and Tang Jitian review papers in April 2010

Lawyers Liu Wei and Tang Jitian review papers in April 2010

And in 2010, it was. In April 2010, Tang Jitian (pronounced Tang Gee-tee’an) and Liu Wei (pronounced Leo Way), two cause lawyers who had represented a practitioner of the spiritual movement Falun Gong and who both quietly left the courtroom in protest when they were unable to present their client’s defense, were hauled before the Beijing Bureau of Justice for a hearing concerning whether they should be disbarred (see China’s Rule of Law Mirage: The Regression of the Legal Profession Since the Adoption of the 2007 Lawyers Law). While Tang and Liu both raised Article 37 – that their ability to practice law was being infringed upon – as a defense, both were permanently disbarred under Article 49(6) for “disrupting the courtroom.” (Id.).

Further attempts to limit the advocacy of human rights attorneys have been proposed more recently by the All China’s Lawyers Association (ACLA), the national bar association that operates under the guidance of the Ministry of Justice.  ACLA’s draft revisions to the Lawyers Code of Conduct (proposed in 2014), if adopted, could limit methods of advocacy that lawyers must use when representing vulnerable populations, including the use of the media and internet (draft Article 9), organizing demonstrations or “inflaming” public opinion (draft Article 11), or supporting organizations that do cause lawyering (draft Article 13).  These draft provisions are in contravention of Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution which provides for freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

When your home becomes your prison: residential survellience

When your home becomes your prison: residential surveillance

The Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) provides another example. Amended in 2012, it was hoped that the amendments would better protect suspects’ rights and ensure a more fair system. But, as Yaqiu Wang at China Change has pointed out, it left one gaping loophole: “residential surveillance at a designated place.” Articles 72 through 77 of the CPL deal with residential surveillance. Although this sounds like a more mellow way to be detained than at a detention center, for those investigations that might involve crimes of “endangering state security,” “terrorism” or “serious crimes of bribery,” residential surveillance does not occur at one’s home. (CPL, Art. 73) Instead, it occurs at an undisclosed location – the family is informed of the fact that the person is being detained under residential surveillance (required by CPL, Art. 73), but not necessarily of the location of the residential surveillance. The suspect has a right to retain a lawyer (see CPL, Art. 73, applying CPL, Art. 33).  But because “residential surveillance in a designated place” presupposes a possible state security, terrorist, or serious bribery charge, the requirement that a meeting with the lawyer take place within 48 hours (CPL, Art. 37) is suspended for those possible charges.  (CPL, Art. 37).  Instead, any meeting must be approved by the police. (CPL, Art. 37).   Which fits with the rules that the suspect must follow when in residential surveillance: only with permission of the public security agency can the suspect meet or correspond with someone else. (CPL, Art.75(2)). And it is not hard to place someone under residential surveillance at a designated place. All that the police need is approval from the chief of public security above the county level. (see Ministry of Public Security Implementing Regulations of the CPL, Art. 106). Residential surveillance pending investigation is permitted for up to six months. (CPL, Art. 77).

Whereabouts Unknown: Lawyer Wang Yu

Whereabouts Unknown: Lawyer Wang Yu

As Plight and Prospects points out, the use of residential surveillance at a designated place has been used with abandon in the current crackdown. The section entitled “Whereabouts Unknown” highlights that eight of the suspects still being held as a result of the July crackdown are held under residential surveillance at a designated place but no one outside of the police, not even their lawyers, know where. Amnesty International researcher William Nee has pointed out that although a legally-authorized form of detention under the amended CPL, it still carries with it the dangers associated with enforced disappearances: held secretly and without access to a lawyer, these suspects in residential surveillance are vulnerable to torture to force a confession.

By being able to point to the law it is using to crackdown on cause lawyers, the Chinese government likely aspires to punt the international critique of a failure to follow a rule of law. It is following a rule of law, it will say. But as Plight and Prospects notes, it is a hollow one where the Chinese government undermines its own Constitution, other provisions of many of the laws it has used in the crackdown, its international treaty obligations as well as the desires of its own people.

 

To Arrest or Not to Arrest – Prosecutors Have to Today to Determine Fate of Five Female Activists

By , April 13, 2015
P1010037

Women Hold Up Half the Sky? And Half the Detention Centers?

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that the Beijing police requested that the local prosecutor formally arrest the five Chinese women detained for planning an anti-sexual harassment demonstration on Intentional Women’s Day (March 8).  According to the detained women’s lawyers, the recommended charges are “organizing a crowd to disturb public order” (Article 291 of  China’s Criminal Law), a charge different than the initial basis for detention: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (Article 293(4) of China’s Criminal Law). 

Since the inception of these detentions on March 6, 2015, little has been transparent, even to the lawyers for the women.  In fact, according to the New York Times, the women’s lawyers were not even informed that a request for arrest had been made to the prosecutors on April 6, 2015.  According to a phone interview with Liang Xiaojun, one of the detained women’s attorneys, the police’s April 6 request for arrest means that the prosecutors must decide by today if there is enough evidence for such an arrest.  (see also Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) Art. 89 requiring that the prosecutor’s office determine within 7 days whether to formally arrest the suspect).  But like everything else that has been happening in this case, likely the detained’s lawyers will continue to be kept in the dark of today’s decision.   

Two years ago the Chinese government heralded the passing of its amended

Clockwise from top left: Zheng Churan, Li Tingting, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong, and Wei Tingting

Clockwise from top left: Zheng Churan, Li Tingting, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong, and Wei Tingting

Criminal Procedure Law, which was intended to bring China more inline with the international community.  Scholars and government officials praised the law for its greater protection of criminal suspects’ rights and improved access to defense lawyers early in the process.  But the detention of these five women, exemplifies the continued weaknesses of the Criminal Procedure Law and its failure to protect suspects’ rights.  Where it does offer some protections, what’s happened to these five women, demonstrate that Chinese police and prosecutors continue to skirt the law with impunity.  This post will review some of the major issues with the detention of China’s five women activists.

The Police Have Not Issued Any Document with the Charges. Is That Legal?

China's Amended Criminal Procedure Law

China’s Amended Criminal Procedure Law

No.  In a phone interview with Liang Xiaobin, Wu Rongrong’s attorney, Mr. Liang informed China Law & Policy that the police have yet to issue any formal document regarding the detention or potential charges against his client.  But Art. 123 of the Ministry of Public Security’s “Procedural Regulations on the Handling of Criminal Cases by Public Security Organs (revised 2012)” (“MPS Regulations” or “Regs”) which implements the CPL, a detention notice must be issued to the family of the detained within 24 hours of detention.  That detention notice would list the charges being investigated. Presumably if such a notice was provided to Wu’s family, it would be transmitted to Liang.  But Liang has yet to obtain any verification of any charges other than those verbally communicated to him.

The Police Did Not Inform the Five Women’s Lawyers that it Had Recommended Arrest.  Is This Legal?

Yes, and this is where one of the major weaknesses in the new Criminal

Will the five women be formally arrested?

Will the five women be formally arrested?

Procedure Law and its implementing regulations is obvious.  During the pre-arrest phase, even when a suspect has retained a lawyer, that lawyer has very little ability to access any of the police or prosecution documents.  In fact, neither the CPL nor the MPS Regulations require that the police or prosecutor inform the lawyer of what is happening in the case.  There is some information that has to be told to the detained’s family (that the suspect has been detained (CPL Art. 83 & MPS Reg Art. 123); that the suspect has been formally arrested (MPS Reg. 141)), but the police do not have to affirmatively inform the family that the police have recommended arrest to the prosecutor, even though there is a paper trail for all of this (see CPL Art. 85 & MPS Reg. Art. 133 both requiring a written formal request be made by the police to the prosecutor)  Without this information, it becomes difficult to hold the prosecutor to the 7-day limit to decide whether to arrest (CPL Art. 89).

Chinese defense lawyers kept in the dark

Chinese defense lawyers kept in the dark

But no where in the CPL or the MPS Regulations does anyone have to inform the retained lawyers of anything.  It is not until the prosecutor begins to investigate for indictment (审查起诉) do rights attach to the defense lawyer.  When that occurs – and again, the law is unclear if anyone has to be affirmatively informed that such a review is occurring – can defense counsel access information from the state.  At that point, the prosecutor’s office is required to share the case file (CPL Art. 38).  But up until that point, keeping the defense attorney in the dark is completely legal.   

Allegedly, the Women Were Denied Easy Access to their Lawyers & When Able to Meet, Conversations Were Recorded.  Is this legal?

No.  The amended CPL was specifically modified to rid the Chinese criminal justice system of these patently unfair practices.  But according emails issued by Yirenping, a Chinese-NGO that many of the women are affiliated with, many of the lawyers’ requests to meet with their clients have been ignored.  The few times the lawyers have been able to meet with their clients, according to Yirenping, the conversations have been recorded. 

Article 37 of the CPL clearly requires that detention centers promptly schedule meetings between lawyers and their clients when the suspected charges do not include national security; such meetings must be scheduled no later than 48 hours after the request.  The MPS Regulations reiterate that right (MPS Regs. Art. 48).  Further, Article 37 of the CPL plainly states that conversations between the lawyer and his or her client are not to be monitored (see also MPS Reg. Art. 52).

Is the Limit for Detention 30 days?

Detention in China

Detention in China

This is unclear.  Although the lawyers for the five women have stated that detention can only be for 30 days before moving to the next stage of the case (here, the police formally requesting that the prosecutors arrest the women) and the police have conveniently stated that it did in fact move the case forward on April 6 (approximately 30 days after the initial detentions), it is unclear whether there is in fact a 30 day limit to detention.  Article 89 of the CPL states that detention, without a request for arrest, is generally limited to three days.  But the police can unilaterally extended that limit for an additional four days (making for a total of seven days). 

But for suspects being investigated for “multiple crimes” (like the women here) or “crimes across multiple regions” (again, like the women here), the police may add an extra 30 days to the detention (CPL Art. 89).  In both the English and Chinese, it is unclear if that 30 days is added on top of the seven that was permissible or if 30 days is the outer limit of detention before request for arrest.  Although both the attorneys in this case and the police seem to maintain that 30 days is the limit, the law is not clear.  But at the most, 37 days is limit for detention. 

Was it legal to bring Wu Rongrong and Zheng Churan to Beijing for detention?

One of the five detained, Wu Rongrong, founder and executive director of the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou

One of the five detained, Wu Rongrong

Yes.  Of the five women detained, two – Wu Rongrong, director of the Hangzhou-based Weizhiming Women’s Center and Zheng Churan, staff member at Yirenping Guanzhou, live outside of Beijing.  Both  were planning their International Women’s Day demonstrations in their respective cities and both were initially detained by the public security officials in each city.  But both were eventually transferred to Beijing’s Haidian Detention Center where the other three women, Wang Man, Wei Tingting and Li Tingting, all residents of Beijing, were being held. 

Both the CPL and the MPS Regulations permit the easy movement of suspects between cities, counties and provinces when appropriate.  Although the default presumption is that jurisdiction of a criminal case is where the crime was committed (see CPL Art. 24; MPS Regs Art. 15), both the Criminal Procedure Law and the MPS Regulations contemplate instances where that might not be the case, especially when there are multiple crimes and/or multiple defendants.    

In fact, an entire Chapter of the MPS Regulations – entitled Cooperation in Case-

One of the detained, Zheng Churan, 25, and staff member of Yirenping based in Guangzhou

One of the detained, Zheng Churan

Handling (Chapter 11, encompassing Articles 335-344) – specifically deals with these situations.  Unlike in the United States, where extradition from one state to another is a formal affair, here the transfer of a criminal suspect is more informal (see MPS Regs Art. 335 requiring local public security bureaus to cooperate with a request to detain a suspect & Art. 336 requiring only a “letter of cooperation” to obtain the locality’s cooperation). Presumably the Beijing PSB provided such a letter to the Hangzhou and Guangzhou PSBs in order to detain and eventually transfer Wu Rongrong and Zheng Churan to Beijing. 

Will the Women Be Arrested?

Their Fate is in the Prosecutor's hands

Their Fate is in the Prosecutor’s hands

Increasingly likely.  The fact that the police have changed the charges and have added more incidents to the charge, such as the women’s street performance demonstration against domestic violence where they dressed up in wedding dresses with fake blood and their “occupy men’s toilets” day to demonstration the insufficiency of women’s toilets in public places, provides for more evidence for arrest.  Further, adding extra incidents and making this multi-crime case, arrest and continued detention is all but certain.  According to Article 139(1) of the People’s Procuratorate’s Criminal Procedural Regulation (revised 2012), the prosecutor’s implementing regulations of the CPL, arrest is necessary when the criminal suspect may commit a new crime.  What provides evidence that the suspect might commit another crime if not detained?  The fact that “the suspect has committed multiple crimes, changed locations in committing multiple crimes, committed related crimes…” 

Within 24 hours of the police’s decision to arrest, the police must inform the family (MPS Reg. Art. 141).  Under Chinese law, the world should know by Tuesday if an arrest was made.  But that’s assuming that anyone actually follows the law.

Without Committing a Crime, Five Female Activists Detained in China

By , March 15, 2015

International Women's DayWhile the rest of the world celebrated International Women’s Day (March 8) with gender equality marches, women empowerment conferences, and female-oriented concerts, the Chinese government opted for a decidedly different approach: detaining a number of Chinese women activists.

On March 6 and 7, 2015, in various cities across China, public security officials rounded up at least 10 women, each of whom sought to mark International Women’s Day with a nation-wide campaign highlighting the increase in sexual harassment on public transportation.  Their goal?  To pass out leaflets and stickers calling for the end of such sexual harassment and for the police to take some action against sexual harassment on public transportation.

One of the five detained, Wu Rongrong, founder and executive director of the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou

One of the five detained, Wu Rongrong, founder and executive director of the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou

While five of these 10 women have been released, five were officially criminally detained on Friday allegedly under the Chinese government’s increasing catch-all for ideas and speech it does not like: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” (Article 293(4) of China’s Criminal Law).

“It is extremely alarming that these five young women have been criminally detained for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’” Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, wrote in an email to China Law & Policy.  “The women were merely planning to commemorate International Women’s Day by raising awareness about sexual harassment on public transportation – hardly an issue that would threaten the central government’s power or social stability in any way.”

In fact, the Chinese government itself has noted the growing problem of sexual harassment – including groping, rubbing and pictures taken under one’s skirt – on public transportation.  Unfortunately, instead of stepping up law enforcement of this quality-of-life crime, the Chinese government has largely left it to women to combat this harassment, urging female riders to forgo wearing mini-skirts or “hot pants” and looking to have women-only subway cars during rush hour.

Another of the detained, Wei Tingting (right), the director of Ji’ande, an LGBT rights organization based in Beijing

Another of the detained, Wei Tingting (right), 27 and director of Ji’ande, an LGBT rights organization based in Beijing

“The detention of these women reveals the hollowness of [the] Chinese government claims of commitment to gender equality, particularly as China prepares to co-host the 2015 Global Women’s Summit at the United Nations, and the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing” Dr. Hong Fincher wrote to China Law & Policy.

But if you think detaining people for leafleting an issue we can all get behind is scary, here is the real frightening part: these five women – Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man and Li Tingting – never actually committed a crime, even under Chinese law.  By detaining these women prior to March 8 – when they were going to distribute their stickers and pamphlets – the women never caused a public disturbance as required by Article 293 of China’s Criminal LawPu Zhiqiang, Cao Shunli, Xu Zhiyong, all detained, arrested or jailed for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” were at least able to partake in their “public disturbance” before the authorities took them away.  These women did not.  At most, in their attempt to make this a nation-wide campaign, they amassed an online following, all eager to partake in the March 8 events.

One of the detained, Zheng Churan, 25, and staff member of Yirenping based in Guangzhou

One of the detained, Zheng Churan, 25, and staff member of Yirenping based in Guangzhou

But, as Jeremy Daum at China Law Translate has noted, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and Supreme People’s Procuratorate’s (SPP) Joint Interpretation of Article 293 (July 2013) makes it clear that causing a disturbance by picking quarrels must happen in some kind of public venue – a bus station, a market, a train station, a park, or “other public venue.” In prosectuting an Article 293(4) case, the courts are required to analyze the totality of the circumstances, including the type of public venue, the number of people attending the event, etc.  (See Article 5 of the Joint Interpretation of Article 293).

Further, as Daum has highlighted, even the SPC’s and SPP’s controversial Joint Interpretation on Internet Speech Crimes (Sept. 2013), which does interpret Article 293(4) of the Criminal Law, would only apply in situations where the individual has spread rumors on the internet or other online network.  The only public prosecution under Article 293(4) involving the internet – the case of blogger Qin Houhou – is precisely this situation.  In addition to being charged with violating Artcile 293(4) – the picking quarrels provision – Qin was also charged and convicted of criminal slander.

Another detained activist, Li Tingting, 25 and Beijing-based manager of the LGBT program at the Beijing Yirenping Center

Another detained activist, Li Tingting, 25 and Beijing-based manager of the LGBT program at the Beijing Yirenping Center

By criminally detaining these women, the Chinese police have stepped up this game, making a formal arrest and prosecution more likely.  While prosecution under Article 293(4) usually has a maximum prison sentence of five years, that sentence can be extended to 10 years where the defendant organizes others to commit the disturbance multiple times.  Given that these women likely were the organizers of the event, a 10 year prison term is a possibility.  Even though the current charge is groundless under Chinese law.

On Friday, the U.S.’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, tweeted her disgust with the Chinese government’s detention of Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man and Li Tingting.  But the United States, and the rest of the world, must maintain this rhetoric.

 

Fifth detained activist, Wang Man, Beijing-based coordinator for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

Fifth detained activist, Wang Man, Beijing-based coordinator for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

Twenty years ago, in Beijing China, Hillary Clinton ignored Chinese pressure to soften her remarks at United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women.  Instead, she rocked the world by forcefully stating that ” human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”  It’s time that Secretary Clinton, a potential presidential candidate, renew that sentiment and call for the release of these women – innocent even under Chinese law.

Translation – Beijing News Interviews Tian Wenchang on Custody & Education

By , June 25, 2014
Criminal Defense Lawyer Tian Wenchang

Criminal Defense Lawyer Tian Wenchang

With the hoopla surrounding actor Huang Haibo’s six month sentence under China’s Custody & Education (“C&E”) system – an administrative punishment outside of the court system – on June 9, 2014, Beijing News ran an article examining that system. Included with the article was a telling diagram that highlighted the lack of a legal basis for C&E. The article effectively called for the repeal of C&E.

For an explanation of C&E and the current debate, see China Law & Policy’s previous post here.

That article is no longer available on the Beijing News website. However, it can still be found here. Additionally, below, China Law & Policy translates the portion of the article that was an interview with Tian Wenchang (pronounced Tea-en When-chang), one of China’s most famous attorneys and the current director of the Criminal Law Committee of the All-China Lawyers’ Association. In the short interview, Tian persuasively argues for C&E’s abolishment.

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Beijing News [BJN]: As one of the people pushing [for reform], why do you want think to do this?

Tian Wenchang [TWC] (Director of the Criminal Law Committee of the All-China Lawyers’ Association): The fact is that after Reeducation through Labor (“RTL”) was abolished, people forgot about Custody & Education (C&E). But because a case relating to C&E recently emerged, society is once again examining C&E, questioning whether it is legitimate and whether it should still exist.

BJN: What do you consider to be the biggest problem with C&E?

TWC: The biggest problem is with C&E is the same as with RTL: administrative agencies can deprive individuals their liberty without due process, so lots of problems appear in implementing it.

BJN: What kinds of problems?

TWC: For example, for sex workers and their clients, after undergoing an administrative punishment [under the Public Security Administrative Punishment law], public security bureaus are able to decide on their own whether the individual should also receive a C&E sentence. There are no specific standards to guide this decision. For example, six months to two years of custody, how is this term determined; it’s very possible that there are variations in the implementation. Without due process and public transparency, it’s easy for there to be a hidden agenda.

BJN: Six months to two years, is that too heavy a punishment for prostitution and solicitation?

TWC: Under the Public Security Administrative Punishment Law, [the police] are able to keep someone in custody for 15 days for a prostitution-related offense. But under C&E, the maximum sentence may be up to two years. This is often more severe than the punishment under the criminal law. Whether this [disparity] is fair or not is pending discussion.

Repealing C&E Will Likely Take A Long Time

BJN: Based on your observation, do local public security bureaus often use C&E as a form of punishment?

TWC: My understanding is that in the overwhelming majority of provinces in the country, C&E is not used very often. But this does not mean that the public security bureaus do not have the right [to use C&E]. So long as they have this right, there will be problems.

BJN: What is the relationship between C&E and RTL?

TWC: Because both are systems that restrict personal liberty, in essence they are the same. It is only the people targeted and the length of the punishment that are different. Furthermore, both are systems that don’t go through the judicial process and instead the administrative agencies unilaterally make the decision. In looking at the legal principles governing C&E, the public security bureaus don’t have a problem; rather the C&E-related legal provision are not in line with the current law. As a result, they must be repealed.

BJN: How likely do you think are the proposals to abolish C&E?

TWC: It will be like RTL which took a long time to repeal; I think repealing C&E will be like that.

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Interview Portion of the Beijing News Article on C&E – Full Article Can Be Found Here

 

新京:作为推动人之一,为什么想到做这个事情?

田文昌(全国律协刑事专业委员会主任):实际上在废除劳教制度后,收容教育制度正在被人们遗忘。但是最近相关案件的出现,让社会重新对它开始有所审视,这个制度到底合不合理,应不应该存在。

新京:你认为收容教育制度最大的问题是什么?

 

田文昌:最大问题是它和劳教制度一样,行政机关可以直接剥夺人的人身自由,没有经过正当的司法程序,执行过程中会出现很多问题。

 

新京:会有哪些问题?

田文昌:比如说,一个卖淫嫖娼人员,在经过行政处罚后,公安机关可以决定是否进行收容教育,这个决定没有特定的标准。再比如6个月到2年的收教,这个期限怎么判定,很可能出现执行偏差。没有正当的司法程序,没有向社会公开,里面容易有猫腻。

 

新京:6个月到2年的收教期限,对于卖淫嫖娼处罚重吗?

田文昌:按照治安处罚法,卖淫嫖娼犯罪行政拘留15天。但是收容教育最高可到两年,这个在很多时候比刑罚还要严重,合不合理是有待商榷的。

 

  废止收容教育或需很长时间

 

新京:据你观察,各地公安机关用收容教育制度惩戒的情况多不多?

田文昌:据我了解,全国绝大多数省份用这个制度的已比较少了。但是这并不表示公安机关没有这个权力,只要有这个权力,就可能出问题。

 

新京:收容教育和劳教制度有什么关联?

田文昌:本质上都属于限制人身自由的制度,是相同的,只是针对的人群和惩戒的期限不同。另外,它们都是没有经过司法程序,行政机关就可以单方决定的制度。从法理上看,收容教育制度并不是公安机关的问题,毕竟以前有这样的相关法规,但是已经和现在法律制度不协调,所以应废止。

 

新京:你认为这次建议废止收容教育制度的可能性有多大?

     田文昌:和劳教制度一样,推动废止需要很长的时间,我想废止收教制度也是如此。

It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World: Current Efforts to Abolish China’s Custody & Education System

By , June 23, 2014
Actor Huang Haibo

Actor Huang Haibo

Unfortunately, it took the detention of a famous male actor for the Chinese media to criticize an unlawful detention system that has long been used against low-income female sex workers. Last month, actor Huang Haibo (pronounced Hwang Hi-bwo), affectionately known as China’s clean-cut “son-in-law,” was detained after he was found with a prostitute in his upscale Beijing hotel room.

Prostitution is illegal under China’s criminal law (Crim. L. Arts. 358-59), but neither Huang nor the sex worker was formally arrested. Neither was charged with a crime. Neither ever saw the inside of a courtroom. But both received a six-month sentence under China’s “Custody and Education” (“C&E”), another punishment in China’s myriad administrative detention system where the police serve as prosecutor, judge and jury. Under C&E, the police can unilaterally detain sex workers and their clients for anywhere from six months to two years.

C&E continues even though last November, the Chinese government herald its abolishment of another administrative detention punishment: the notorious “Re-education Through Labor” (“RTL”). Now, with the detention of one of China’s most famous actors, the spotlight is on C&E. China’s media, including the state-run media, is calling for its abolishment. But will C&E go to the same way as RTL?

C&E’s Dubious Legal Status

It’s not surprising that C&E, formally in existence since 1991, has not garnered much press prior to the detention of Huang Haibo. It is a punishment that is reserved exclusively for sex workers and their clients and according to Asia Catalyst‘s seminal report on the topic, the punishment has largely fallen upon lower-income women who often have no other career options, not your usual feel-good story that mainstream media prefers.

But the Beijing police diverged from the usual pattern when, on May 15, 2014, it went after Huang Haibo and presumably a high-end

Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times

Potential Victim of China’s Custody & Education System (Photo Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times)

prostitute. Immediately following the May 15 detention, the Beijing police – through their Weibo account (China’s version of Twitter) – alerted the world to Huang’s detention. At first, the police gave Huang and his cohort a lighter sentence of 15 days administrative detention under the more generic Public Security Administrative Punishment Law. But on May 30, 2014, the Beijing police unilaterally decided to continue Huang’s detention, sentencing him and his cohort to six months in C&E which falls under the regulation entitled Measures for the Management of C&E Centers (“C&E Management Measures”).

It was that six-month sentence – a much more serious deprivation of liberty than the prior 15 days – that caused popular uproar with various editorials questioning C&E’s legal status. But even prior to the Huang Haibo incident, back in early May, many China human rights lawyers, including Pu Zhiqiang (pronounced Poo Zhir-chee-ang), recently arrested for “creating disturbances and illegally obtaining personal information,” signed a petition calling for C&E’s abolishment stating that under Chinese law, C&E is illegal.

Recent editorials, including an interview with the director of the Criminal Legal Affairs Committee of the All-China Lawyers’ Association, Tian Wenchang (pronounced Tee-an When-chang), have echoed the arguments found in that May petition which received scant attention at the time. Almost every editorial notes the non-transparent nature of C&E. There is no impartial judge that the individual can appeal to; there is no lawyer. Instead, under the C&E Management Measures, the police have complete power to determine if C&E is appropriate and the length of the sentence. While there is an appeal mechanism, the first step is to ask the police to reconsider the sentence (Art. 20). Only after that reconsideration can the individual seek to bring a lawsuit against the state. But without a lawyer, that rarely happens.

An RTL camp in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. (File photo/CFP)

An RTL camp in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. (File photo/CFP)

Similar factors – the unilateral decisions of the police and absolutely no judicial oversight – pushed the public to call for RTL’s abolition.  But those due process violations alone were not enough to overturn RTL. Also instrumental was the fact that RTL was not based in law. According to the China’s Legislation Law, the law that sets the basic ground rules on how all other laws and regulations are to be written, “[o]nly national law may be enacted in respect of matters relating to. . . (v) . . . compulsory measures and penalties involving restrictions of personal freedom. . . .” (Art. 8). Thus, only the National People’s Congress (“NPC”) or the NPC’s Standing Committee is entitled to make “national law.” And any attempted to deprive an individual of his or her liberty must be based on laws passed by the NPC or its Standing Committee.

In the case of RTL, the three sets of rules that governed the system – the 1957 Decision, the 1979 Supplemental Decision and the 1982 Trial Rules – were instituted by the State Council and the Ministry of Public Security, not by the NPC or its Standing Committee. As a result, RTL was in violation of legal procedure. Making its abolishment legally necessary.

Similar arguments are being made in regards with to C&E.   C&E was first established by the 1991 Measure on the C&E of Prostitutes & Their Clients which was in fact passed by the NPC’s Standing Committee. In that document, the Standing Committee delegated to the State Council the right to draft the C&E Management Measures, the measures which deal with the deprivation of individuals’ liberty. But again, the China’s Legislation Law, this time Article 9, clearly does not permit the NPC or its Standing Committee to delegate the right to draft regulations pertaining to the deprivation of liberty. As a result, the State Council’s 1993 C&E Management Measures are without legal effect, making the whole C&E system in violation of the law.

Will C&E Go the Way of RTL?

There are certainly strong if not convincing legal claims for C&E’s abolition. But one thing to factor in is the amount of money which the

Cha-ching! Women in a Custody & Education Center (Photo from Weibo)

Cha-ching! Women in a Custody & Education Center (Photo from Weibo)

public security bureaus (“PSB”) make off of C&E as highlighted in the Asia Catalyst report. Under C&E, detainees are required to work and although the Management Measures imply that the detainees be paid (Art. 13), they very rarely are. Instead, the income goes to the local PSB’s coffers.

Another source of income: the detainees themselves. Ironically, the Management Measures require that the detainees completely cover the costs of their own detention (Art. 14); RTL did not contain such a provision. As the Asia Catalyst report documents, these costs are substantial and likely inflated – six months in a C&E costs an individual between 5,000 to 10,000 yuan (US $820 to $1,639). Also inflated are the costs of goods. According to the Asia Catalyst interviewees, goods are several times more expensive than on the outside.

With the free labor and the ability to charge detainees for their custody, C&E centers are an important profit center to local PSBs. It’s the local PSB’s profit-motive that will make abolishing C&E more of a challenge. As the Asia Catalyst report points out, local PSBs did not fare so well when China became a market economy and have had to find ways to support themselves. One way is through C&E centers.

Allegedly the woman found with Huang Haibo - a Chinese "any one"?

Allegedly the woman found with Huang Haibo – a Chinese “any one”?

And on some level, the Chinese government and local PSBs have to recognize that sex workers and their clients do not garner the same level of societal sympathy as those who were getting caught up in RTL. Tang Hui (pronounced Tang Hway), a mother of an 11 year old girl who was raped and sold into prostitution, became the poster-child for the dangers of RTL. After her daughter’s rapists, kidnappers and pimps were given a slight slap on the wrist, Tang protested. But that protest is what landed her in an RTL camp. When she got out, she sued, receiving a tremendous amount of public support and highlighting the dangers of RTL. Similarly, in 2003, when China abolished Custody & Repatriation, another form of administrative detention, the public was aghast that an innocent college student, Sun Zhigang (pronounced Son Zher-gang) could get caught up in such a system and end up dead in police custody.

Tang and Sun were China “any ones” – anyone could be a grieved mother; anyone could be a young

Will public attention to C&E pass once Huang Haibo is freed?

Will public attention to C&E pass once Huang Haibo is freed?

college student. Anyone could have been entrapped by such an unjust system. But here, with C&E, the individuals involved are sex workers, and lower-income, less-educated sex workers. Although C&E has the same abuses as RTL, most Chinese do not fear that they will find themselves entangled in the C&E system. There is a high likelihood that the public spotlight that is currently on C&E will fade once Huang Haibo is freed.

But at the very least the Huang incident has caused the international media to focus on the C&E

system. Supposedly the Chinese Communist Party was intent on repealing RTL because it is an obvious roadblock to its ability to ratify the UN’s Convention on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty which forbids the deprivation of liberty without due process of law and court oversight. But C&E – now that it has been exposed more publicly as a result of the Huang Haibo incident – needs to be abolished before China can ratify that treaty.

Truth, Lies or Justice: Defamation in the Chen Yongzhou Affair

By , November 14, 2013
The crime of defamation

The crime of defamation

The detention of journalist Chen Yongzhou, his employer New Express’s front page editorial pleading that he be set free, and Chen’s subsequent televised confession to accepting bribes and writing false articles against Changsha’s Zoomlion, all the while in Changsha police custody, is, even for China, unusual.  But the question is – was it all legal?

Last week, China Law & Policy examined whether Changsha police followed proper procedures in detaining Chen, especially since they went to Guangzhou to find him.  Today, we look to the underlying charges – mainly the claim that Chen defamed Zoomlion and thus is subject to arrest.  Is defamation a crime?

Watch What You Say…..Criminal Defamation is Legal in China

Like it or not, China’s criminal law covers defamation.  Article 246 makes it criminal to “publicly humiliate another person or invent stories to defame,” providing a potential prison term of not more than three years.  But as Mei Ning Yan stated in Criminal Defamation in the New Media Environment – the Case of the People’s Republic of China, Article 246 covers defamations of actual persons, not corporations.

That is why immediately following Chen’s apprehension, state-run news outlets like Xinhua stated that Changsha police had detained Chen on suspicion of “damaging business reputation,” a defamation-like charge found in Article 221 of the Criminal Law which subjects the defendant to up to two years in prison.

According to Chinese news reports, on September 9, 2013, after over a year of alleged defamatory articles published by New Express, representatives of Zoomlion complained to the Changsha police about the articles.  The Changsha police investigated the charges and on October 18, 2013, went to Guangzhou to apprehend Chen (see Stealing Suspects to understand the law surrounding cross-province detention).  On October 30, 2013, Chen was formally arrested on charges of damaging Zoomlion’s reputation.  The allegations and the charges are all legal under Chinese law

People in Glass Houses…..the U.S.’ Use of Criminal Defamation

The rise of commercial media in China

The rise of commercial media in China

While many Americans are surprised to learn that defamation can carry prison time in China, China is not alone in criminalizing defamation.  As of 2006, seventeen states in the U.S. still maintain active criminal defamation or criminal libel statutes.  While in most states the charge is a mere misdemeanor, one state – Massachusetts – provides for a prison sentence of up to one year.  In 1966, in Ashton v. Kentucky, the United States Supreme Court examined Kentucky’s criminal defamation statute and although held it unconstitutional, it was only on the grounds that the use of “disturbing  the peace” to define the crime was too vague to pass muster.   The crime itself was not a problem; just the way it was defined, or more aptly not defined.  The seventeen states that retain a criminal defamation or libel statute have much more clearly defined laws that could potentially pass the Ashton test.

Since the 1966 Ashton case, criminal defamation has rarely been prosecuted.  But more recently, there has been a bit of a revival in the United States, at least in examining these statutes intellectually in light of the internet age.  Criminal libel and defamation statutes are seen as a possible to deterrent what has become a more common problem in the United States: cyberbullying.  In “Kiddie Crime: The Utility of Criminal Law in Controlling Cyberbullying,” Megan Rehberg and Susan W. Brenner note the recent rise in the call to use current criminal law, including criminal defamation statues, to criminalize cyberbullying.

While Legal, the Use of Criminal Defamation is an Odd Choice in this Case

Criminal defamation is a rarely used tool in the United States because individuals and corporations have an alternate option: civil defamation claims.  Bringing the case civilly entitles the victim to compensation.  For most, especially for businesses, monetary compensation is a lot more rewarding than having the perpetrator sit in a jail cell.

Although an October 29, 2013 op-ed by Ku Ma in the English-language version of  the China Daily asserted that there is no ability to bring a civil defamation claim, that is just not true (and might explain why that op-ed has been pulled from the China Daily website although still available here).  Since the 1987 adoption of the General Principles of the Civil Law (“General Principles”), where reputation has been harmed, civil defamation claims are permissible under Article 120 for both citizens and “legal persons” (businesses).

Chinese policeUnder the General Principles, the victim can sue the perpetrator for the following remedies: (1) to stop the defamation; (2) to restore his reputation; (3) for an apology; and (4) for compensation, both economic and emotional.  These remedies are not available under the Chinese criminal law.

And the victim can bring the civil defamation claim in his home jurisdiction.  According to the Supreme People’s Court’s  1998 Interpretation of the General Principles, the “consequences of the crime” in defamation cases can be the plaintiff’s hometown.  So for a company like Zoomlion – where the provincial government as its controlling shareholder and it is an important economic force in Changsha – bringing a civil defamation charge in Changsha would likely have a close to 100% success rate.  According to a 2006 study by Prof. Benjamin Liebman examining defamation cases in China, cases brought in the plaintiff’s home jurisdiction have an 82% success rate.  That rate increases to 88% where the plaintiff is also a Party-State actor.

So if you are Zoomlion, why bring the criminal action?  Why not go for the civil claims and at least get paid?  Prison time for Chen doesn’t necessarily make you whole.  And Zoomlion gets the apology either way.

Only Zoomlion knows why it choose to go the criminal route and not the civil one.  But in trying to find some rational reason, one can’t help but wonder that maybe Zoomlion wanted to avoid a civil trial.  A confession from Chen, held incommunicado in Changsha, would mean that a court would only have a short criminal trial with little testing of the evidence (in China, “plea bargaining” doesn’t avoid a criminal trial, it just shortens it.  See here for a detailed explanation).   With Chen’s confession, Zoomlion would not have to worry about “truth” as a defense to defamation.

But with a civil defamation trial, New Express would likely play an active role and even though Zoomlion would likely win, New Express might want to bring them down with them, exposing even more evidence of Zoomlion’s corruption.

Another alternative theory is that the Party-State wants to send a signal to an increasingly aggressive media:  the government is still in charge; that under China’s new president, Xi Jinping, the commercial media will be reigned-in.  The years 2008 to 2012 witnessed the central government’s clamp down on a once increasingly vibrant public interest lawyer bar.  While still active, that bar is under constant assault.  Does 2013 begin the start of a similar and severe clamp down on the commercial media?

But these theories are speculation.  Perhaps Chen is guilty of accepting bribes from Zoomlion’s competitor and wrote false articles.  The only one thing we know for sure is that Chen’s televised confession and his “trial by television” (as Peter Ford has coined the term) does a disservice to a rule of law.  Instead, like the Gu Kailai trial and subsequent Bo Xilai one, the Chinese government has merely continued to demonstrate that for legal cases that would test the system and challenge vested powers, its merely sham justice.  Who the Chinese government thinks it is fooling is unclear.

An Uncomfortable Truth: Use of Criminal Law in China’s Economic Development

By , August 4, 2013
Food safety inspectors reviewing a restaurant in China

Food safety inspectors reviewing a restaurant in China

Over at the Council on Foreign Relation’s China blog, Prof. Margaret K. Lewis of Seton Hall’s School of Law has written an interesting and timely piece about the role that criminal law plays in advancing China’s economic “miracle.”

As Lewis notes, and following up on recent articles in the New York Times (see here, here and here), China’s civil legal system and its regulatory state largely failed in dealing with some of China’s new economic problems – namely food safety, financial markets and environmental degradation.

But as Lewis goes on to highlight, this failure of the civil and regulatory systems does not mean that the Chinese government has not tried to stem these problems.  In fact, as Lewis observes, it has, through the use of the criminal law.  Recently, the Chinese government has stepped up the threat of severe criminal sanctions, including the death penalty, in an attempt to try to police this situation.

Lewis’ blog post is based upon her new research regarding how, since Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 “Reform and Opening” policy, the Chinese government has used the criminal law to propel its economic development.  See Margaret K. Lewis, Criminal Law’s Contribution to China’s Economic Development (August 1, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2298923.

In fact, one of Deng’s first actions after assuming leadership was to publicly prosecute the Gang of Four, signaling the changing of the guard from

The Gang of Four

The Gang of Four

political extremism to a focus on economic growth.  From there, Lewis recounts the formation of many of the laws that would underpin Deng’s policy of economic growth, showing that the intention of many criminal laws was to find the “growth-enhancing sweet spot.”  It’s no wonder that today in China, economic criminal liability is much broader than in most other developed countries including the United States.

Lewis’ well-researched analysis makes a strong argument for her point: that you cannot analyze China’s economic growth without looking at how it has used the criminal law to assist in that growth.  But even still, it leaves you uncomfortable – there is something about the use of criminal law to propel growth that seems at odds with its purpose.  This Lewis notes is likely more the result of how the West has come to define patterns of economic growth.  To achieve a sustainable market economy, the government sets in place a regulatory state with certain ground rules and then lets the actors – usually companies and individuals – duke it out within the confines of an independent legal system.

But that is not what is going on here in China and it’s this bucking of the traditional historical trajectory of growth that forces scholars to look elsewhere for its explanation.  In China’s case, that elsewhere might be the criminal law.

Criminal Law’s Contribution to China’s Economic Development” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between law and economic growth in an authoritarian state.  But it also raises many questions – is this use of the criminal law sustainable?  Can China solve its regulatory failure problems through state-dominated use of the criminal law?  Lewis examines a few problems with its usage, especially in attempting to deter official corruption where the Chinese Communist Party is too hesitant to prosecute its own.  She also explores the use of economic criminal liability to suppress dissent that officials determine is too “destabilizing” to development.

RMBFrom Lewis’ review of recent criminal legislation, interpretations and call for greater criminal liability, it becomes obvious that she is right – the Chinese government is attempting to use criminal law to support its market reforms.  But in a country of 1.3 billion with a land mass close to the size of the United States, how sustainable is this approach?  That is a question that we hope Prof. Lewis answers in her next article.

Glenn Tiffert on the Role of the Party-State in the Bo Xilai Affair

By , October 14, 2012

A few weeks ago, Glenn D. Tiffert, a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of California, Berkeley with a focus on the legal history of the PRC, posted an article on traditional problems of jurisdiction, issues that any legal system would have – which courts have the right to hear a case and why.

But China’s legal system is far from traditional. Tiffert makes that clear in his new article “Hold the Champagne: The Bo Xilai Affair, the Party-State, and Rule of Law,” posted below. How are criminal trials of government officials handled in a one-Party state, where the overlap between the Party and the state is strong and omnipresent? What does the fact that Gu Kailai and Wang Lijun went through the criminal legal process and not the Party’s disciplinary process mean for the rule of law? And does the fact that Bo Xilai was very much handled by the Party disciplinary process mean anything else?

Hold the Champagne: The Bo Xilai Affair, the Party-State, and the Rule of Law

by Glenn D. Tiffert

Part 2 of a two-part series on the Bo Xilai Affair. Click here for Part 1.

With its personal and political dramas, and its broader implications for leadership succession, the Bo Xilai Affair (“the Affair”) has captivated observers of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”). But beneath the headlines, the Affair affords an opportunity to take stock of the evolving relationship between the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) and the PRC state, a task this post briefly undertakes in the context of discipline and punishment.

Although China today largely has a market economy, the Leninist political concept of the “Party-state” remains a useful one. The term suggests a duality in which each component maintains a distinctive identity amid mutual, deep entanglements.

According to one recent description: “The Party is like God. He is everywhere.”Its tendrils penetrate every corner of Chinese political, economic,

Vladamir Lenin: His Ghost Still Lives on in the Chinese Party State

social, religious and cultural life, and it tolerates no organization it cannot monitor or control. Hence, in principle, every institution of significance in China has internal Party representation that links to a parallel, external hierarchy of Party organs. This arrangement is intended to maintain the Party’s intimacy with Chinese society and leadership of it, and facilitate tight discipline over ideology as well as policy formation and implementation.

Yet, the boundaries and terms of the Party-state duality are far from stable. Historically, they have generated fierce contestation and fluctuated widely, not just in the PRC, but also under the Nationalist regime that preceded it. In short, Party and state, though tightly entwined, variously face one another in tension.

The Bo Xilai Affair illustrates the ongoing complexities of the Party-state relationship well, particularly as it pertains to the legal system. To explore this more concretely, let us reconstruct from the public record the differential handling and case procedural histories of the Affair’s principal players –Bo, his wife Gu Kailai, and Chongqing police chief, Wang Lijun.

A Tangled Web: Discipline Through Both Legal and Party Means

Generally speaking, the PRC maintains three official channels of discipline and punishment for government officials and Party members. These channels may overlap or intersect in specific cases.

The first channel involves ordinary criminal liability. All citizens accused of crimes – including officials and Party members – are subject to the state legal system familiarly comprised of police, procuratorates and courts. But, Article 74 of the PRC Constitution exempts deputies to the National People’s Congress (“NPC”) from arrest or criminal trial without the consent of the NPC Presidium or its Standing Committee. At the time the Affair erupted, both Bo and Wang were NPC deputies.

The second channel, also governed by state law, involves administrative sanctions and applies specifically to government officials and Party members, who are subject to a thicket of regulations and laws enforced by an assortment of agencies, including the Law on Public Servants and, in complex or serious cases, investigation and sanction by agents of the Ministry of Supervision pursuant to the Administrative Supervision Law.

The third and final channel exists in parallel to the state legal system and is purely Party. Under the Party Constitution and subsidiary rules and regulations, CCP members are subject to Party discipline. In fact, the CCP maintains a hierarchy of internal Discipline Inspection Commissions charged with investigating both concrete cases and maintaining the overall organizational and ideological health of the Party.

Attempt to Separate Legal Liability and Party Discipline

Deng Xiaoping takes power in China and the early 1980s sees "reform & opening"

When the CCP began reconstructing its state legal and internal disciplinary organs in the early 1980s after the disruption of the Cultural Revolution, an effort was made to assert their separateness. Thus, the Party’s Central Discipline Inspection Commission and Organization Department jointly opined in 1982 that CCP members could be arrested and tried in the state legal system under the criminal law without first waiting for the Party to dispose of their cases internally, and that the Party disciplinary process could even begin after a judicial verdict. They added that punishment under the criminal law should, with limited exceptions, result in expulsion from the Party. Indeed Article 38 of the Party Constitution declares in part that “Party members who seriously violate the criminal law must be expelled from the Party.”

Very little public information is available on the operation of the Party disciplinary process, but observable practice indicates that this stab at separation did not get very far. Although the 1982 Party Opinions intended to loosen the chains that bind the state legal process to the Party disciplinary process, in practice, the Party exercises a right of first refusal towards suspected criminals within its ranks. Accordingly, Party officials suspected of offenses prosecutable under the criminal law are routinely held to account only through internal disciplinary channels, where anecdotal evidence suggests they often get off more leniently than the criminal law would allow – in many cases effectively suffering no more than setbacks to their careers. This amounts to a double standard of justice for Party members and understandably outrages those who believe that everyone in China should be equal before the law.

It appears that the Party countenances prosecution by state judicial authorities only of members suspected of especially serious or notorious crimes, crimes that in its estimation cry out for punishments heavier than mere internal Party discipline, or in which the Party wishes to set a public example. Consistent with its 1982 Opinions, the Party may in these instances allow the police and procuratorate to originate a case in the state legal system, or it may refer a case to them after exhausting its own internal disciplinary process. Of course, the latter – in which the Party has already made its own internal decision – effectively constitutes a form of political guidance on the expected outcome of the state criminal prosecution and trial.

In addition, because police and procuratorial personnel often participate in Party disciplinary investigations, they are familiar with the details of the referred case before it formally enters the judicial process. What is more, at the time of referral, the Party forwards to them the report of its Discipline Inspection Commission and the official findings therein. Thus, the Party disciplinary process – even though it appears on paper as separate from the legal system – contaminates the judicial process at multiple points, making independent adjudication that much more difficult.

How Does the Party-State Discipline Model Play Out in the Bo Xilai Affair?

How do these arrangements bear on the Bo Xilai Affair? The three principals – Bo Xilai, his wife Gu Kailai, and Wang Lijun – were all members of the CCP. So far as we know, Gu Kailai held no Party or state offices, but Wang Lijun held both, and Bo Xilai held Party, but no state, office. As the table below indicates, these facts determined the channels through which their cases publicly traveled.

The Case of Bo Xilai

The Party’s handling of Bo Xilai exemplifies a classic sequence of discipline and punishment for Party members: (1) suspension of Party posts pending the results of disciplinary investigation, (2) expulsion from the Party upon the completion of that investigation, (3) seamless referral to the state judicial system for prosecution and, eventually, (4) conviction. The key outstanding questions concerns the specific charges that will be leveled against Bo and the severity of his ultimate sentence.

Bo Xilai

Deconstructing his case further, as a member of the Politburo, Bo fell directly under the Party jurisdiction of the Central Committee. Thus, on March 15, 2012 and pursuant to the Party’s internal Regulations on Disciplinary Punishment (中国共产党纪律处分条例), the Central Committee removed him from his Chongqing Party posts, chief among them Party Secretary. Further following the sequence mentioned in the prior paragraph, on April 10, 2012 the Party suspended his membership in the Politburo and the Central Committee and announced that his case would be sent to the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) for investigation of “serious disciplinary violations.” On September 28, 2012, after considering the CDIC report on his case, the Politburo of the Central Committee expelled Bo from the Party and referred him to judicial authorities for prosecution. Divested of his Party membership, on September 29, 2012, Chongqing municipal authorities formally requested that the National People’s Congress (NPC) strip Bo of his seat (and the immunity it conferred) in order to formally clear the way for prosecution. As of this writing, we await the trial and sentence.

Another outstanding question concerns Bo’s whereabouts since his last public appearance in mid-March. As a subject of Party investigation, he was likely held under shuanggui (双规), an extra-legal form of detention used by the Party in its disciplinary process to investigate and interrogate members suspected of violating Party rules or state law. Party rules restrict shuanggui to a term of six months, which coincides well with Bo’s mid-March disappearance. We may learn at trial that he was transferred to state custody on a date that falls plausibly within this six-month time limit.

– The Case of Wang Lijun

Wang Lijun’s case traveled a different route. On February 7, 2012, Wang left the United States Consulate in Chengdu and surrendered

Wang Lijun

immediately to central authorities, reportedly from the Ministry of State Security, disappearing from view until his trial in mid-September. However, Wang was not formally arrested by State Security until July 22, 2012, having been stripped of his NPC seat and the immunity it conferred several weeks before, on June 30.

Authorities have offered no public account of his whereabouts between early February and late July. Three possibilities suggest themselves. First, in China, the police can detain an individual for investigation in a detention center or jail without arrest for up to 37 days, though they may be able to reset that clock and lawfully extend detention further by tacking on charges with strategic timing. A five and a half month detention, however, would have stretched that to the point of unlawfulness and, while hardly unprecedented, the intra-Party stakes would arguably have made the Party averse to tainting its handling of this case with that kind of procedural irregularity.

A second, more remote, possibility is the extra-legal Party form of detention called shuanggui, discussed above. Third, Wang may have been placed under “residential surveillance (监视居住),” a controversial form of prolonged detention famously used against government critics that, contrary to its connotations, is frequently served at a place or facility designated by the police. Under the Criminal Procedure Law, residential surveillance is limited to a period of six months, which fits Wang’s disappearance from public closely.

Gu Kailai

– The Case of Gu Kailai

Gu Kailai’s detention raises the same questions. She disappeared from public view in mid-March, was not formally arrested until July 6, 2012 and reappeared only at her trial for the intentional killing of Neil Heywood on August 9, 2012. Nearly four months separated her disappearance and arrest, and again the official record offers no explanation. Investigatory detention for that length of time for a single charge of homicide too would have been unlawful.

Foregrounding the State: CCP Reticence in the Gu & Wang Cases

Wang and Gu were both Party members, but interestingly the Party has only spoken of their cases in the context of the state legal system; it has studiously avoided associating them with its internal disciplinary process. This would favor residential surveillance, rather than shuanggui, as the explanation for their extended disappearances.

The Party’s inhibitions about connecting these two cases to discipline manifests in another important way as well. Wang and Gu have both been convicted of “serious” crimes, but no public announcement of Party disciplinary sanctions, most obviously expulsion, has followed; Article 38 of the Party Constitution requires expulsion.

In the past, such announcements routinely arrived at the outset of the state legal process. The practice of announcing expulsion just prior to referring the case to judicial authorities suggested a convention that Party members in good standing were immune from state prosecution, irrespective of the 1982 Opinions. Bo Xilai’s case, for example, conforms to this model, as did those of Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu before him. There are signs, however, that this practice has changed, at least for some defendants.

For cases like Gu’s and Wang’s, which originate in the state legal system rather than with a disciplinary investigation, the Party is no longer consistently publicizing the disciplinary consequences of conviction. One might read this as a positive development if it indicates that the Party has rediscovered the spirit of the 1982 Opinions and is again loosening the chains that bind the state legal system to its internal disciplinary process. After all, given the clarity of the Party Constitution on the consequences of conviction for serious crimes, one may assume with good reason that Wang and Gu have been, or will be, expelled. On the other hand, with public faith in the capacity of the CCP to police its own at a nadir, continued silence on their standing in the Party, especially in light of their notoriety, invites cynicism and conspiratorial theorizing.

Discipline Through the Administrative Channel: Greater Rule of Law by the Party?

In addition to the Party disciplinary and state criminal processes discussed so far, there remains another channel: the state administrative process. A dizzying array of state administrative organs regulate malfeasance by government agencies and their personnel. The relation of these various administrative organs to one another and to the Party disciplinary process is not always clear, though one example stands out from the pack and demonstrates how intertwined the state administrative disciplinary process is with the Party’s.

Historically, the crowning organs of the state administrative and Party disciplinary channels have had overlapping memberships, with key cadres concurrently holding leadership positions in both. For example, the current Minister of State Supervision, Ma Wen, also serves as a Deputy

The Downfall of Bo Xilai begins with the Party

Secretary of the Party’s Central Discipline Inspection Commission, just as her predecessor, Qian Ying, did in the 1950s, when Qian established the precedent. In fact, the correspondence between these organs extends deeper still: in 1993, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission actually absorbed the Ministry of State Supervision in a merger, and while they remain distinct on organization charts, their twin apparatuses often function as alter-egos in concrete cases.

Strictly speaking, only one of the three defendants held state office at the time the Bo Xilai Affair erupted, Wang Lijun, and I will have more to say about him in a moment. But in a curious twist emblematic of the overlap between Party and state, Bo Xilai himself is also subject to the 2005 Law on Public Servants (公务员法), paradoxically through his Party status.

In 2006, the CCP Central Committee and State Council, as the top organs of Party and state administration, jointly issued an Implementation Plan for the PRC Law on Public Servants(中华人民共和国公务员法实施方案) (“the Plan”). The Plan makes clear that, pursuant to subsidiary Rules on the Scope of Public Servants (公务员范围规定) (“the Rules”), functionaries in CCP organs (工作人员), with the exception of service workers (工勤人员), qualify as public servants and thus are subject to the Law on Public Servants; Hence Party officials who hold no state office are now counter-intuitively subject to state law regulating public servants.

Article 4, Paragraph 1 of the Rules is still more explicit, listing among the categories of CCP personnel included within the scope of public servants “leading personnel of Party Committees and Discipline Inspection Commissions at the central and various local levels.” Under this rubric, Bo Xilai, as Chongqing Party Secretary and a member of the Politburo qualified doubly, and hence the announcement of his referral for prosecution properly lists the state Law on Public Servants among the legal bases for the Party’s decisions to remove him from his Party posts.

The optimistic reading of this convoluted logic would go something like this: the Party, having conceded that it is subject to the law, faithfully submits its leading members to the same regulatory standard as state public servants, a refreshing acknowledgment perhaps of their actual powers and functions amid the blurred boundaries of the dualist Party-state.

But before we break out the champagne to celebrate this milestone in the tortuous journey of the rule of law in China, it bears keeping in mind that while such maneuvers reference state law, they reach it only after an initial, internal determination by the Party; it is the Party that permits a case to attain this point.

Moreover, a further cautionary note underscores how provisional the change is in the relationship between Party and the state. Though the Party has gone to considerable lengths to present its handling of the Bo, Wang and Gu cases as procedurally unimpeachable models of socialist rule of law, certain details belie its tidy narrative, and Wang Lijun helps to show how.

Recall that of the three defendants discussed here, only Wang is known to have held state office at the time the Affair erupted. On March 26, 2009, the Chongqing Municipal People’s Congress, acting under its constitutional authority, appointed him Chongqing Police Chief, and on May 27, 2011, it elevated him to serve concurrently as Deputy Mayor. The power to reassign or dismiss Wang from these posts similarly fell under its jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, Wang’s February 2, 2012 reassignment from police duties, the event that precipitated his flight to the United States Consulate several days later, was not in fact ordered by the People’s Congress or by another legally authorized state body, but by the city’s Party Committee, controlled by Bo Xilai. This unlawful conflation of Party and state – where the Party performs duties reserved to the state – was then compounded on March 15, 2012, when the CCP Central Committee, via its Organization Department, removed Wang from his position as Deputy Mayor.  It was not until March 23, 2012, that the Chongqing Municipal People’s Congress formalized Wang’s dismissals from these posts, making them legally valid.  For as long as fifty revealing days, the gaps between Party and state, power and law, brazenly lay bare.

Party authorities, at both the municipal and national levels, in their haste could not be troubled to maintain appearances by first arranging Wang’s dismissals through regular state channels. Instead, the Party violated the Constitution and other laws, thereby poking holes in the self-congratulatory, socialist rule of law banner it attempted to wrap around these cases. In short, Wang’s case reminds us that even after considerable effort to systematize Party and state administration and bring the Party under the ambit of state law, old Leninist habits and sensibilities remain alive and well, and are never far from the surface.

This is the second article in a two-part series. For Part 1, click here.

Glenn Tiffert On China’s Recent Jurisdictional Issues

By , September 9, 2012

Jurisdiction is central in any legal system; it is jurisdiction that gives a court its power to administer justice.  Without proper jurisdiction, a court’s opinion is defective.  Thus, given its importance, all legal systems design specific rules governing when a court has jurisdiction over a case.

But recently in China, how courts have gained jurisdiction in criminal trials has been called into question.  The trial of Gu Kailai, for a murder that took place in Chongqing, was heard in Hefei.  Wang Lijun was police chief of Chongqing, but his crimes are being heard in a Chengdu court.  Has the Chinese legal system ignored all rules concerning what gives a court jurisdiction?  Or are there other rules that apply?

Glenn D. Tiffert, a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of California, Berkeley with a focus on the legal history of the PRC, explains below that what might look like a random selection of courts actually has a basis in law.  Tiffert also reminds us that there is more than just the Criminal Procedure Law to look at in understanding the Chinese criminal legal system. 

Mixed-Up Confusion?  The Different Ways Chinese Courts Obtain Jurisdiction

By Glenn D. Tiffert

Part 1 of a two part series exploring the jurisdictional issues in recent criminal cases

As the Chinese legal system works its way through the various cases connected to the “Bo Xilai Affair,” it is a good time to review the usually unglamorous procedural rules governing jurisdiction.  The Bo Xilai Affair has brought these jurisdictional rules to the forefront and is generating more than the usual amount of interest among China watchers; even those focused on Chinese law are finding twists worth exploring.

To keep things simple, I will explore jurisdictional issues in the Gu Kailai and Wang Lijun cases alone, although my points could apply more generally to the other defendants connected to Gu, namely her accomplice Zhang Xiaojun, and the four police officers charged with covering up her crime.  This post will look at territorial jurisdiction, in other words, where the trials were held.  A later post will examine why both cases were assigned to intermediate level People’s Courts.

Gu Kailai being led into Hefei Intermediate People's Court

To recap: Gu Kailai was convicted of the intentional homicide of Neil Heywood, a British citizen resident in China, and the crime was alleged to have taken place in Chongqing, Sichuan province, the city her powerful husband, Bo Xilai, presided over as Party Secretary.  However, Gu’s trial took place 800 miles away from the city of Chongqing, in the city of Hefei, Anhui province, a place that had no known connection to the homicide, or to the alleged crimes of the other defendants associated with her.  Observers have suggested various practical or political reasons for why the trial was not held in Chongqing, and why it may have been assigned to Hefei, but those need not concern us here.  We are interested in discovering the legal authority for the assignment of the case to Hefei.

Article 24 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC establishes the general rule that: “A criminal case shall be under the jurisdiction of the People’s Court in the place where the crime was committed.  If it is more appropriate for the case to be tried by the People’s Court in the place where the defendant resides, then that court may have jurisdiction over the case.”   Additionally, the Criminal Procedure Law provides rules for cases in which more than one court could claim jurisdiction, or in which jurisdiction is unclear.  For example, Article 25 states: “When several People’s Courts at the same level have jurisdiction over a case, it shall be tried by the People’s Court that first accepted it. When necessary the case may be transferred for trial to the People’s Court in the principal place where the crime was committed.”  However, in the case of Gu Kailai, none of these basic rules provide a basis for trying her in Hefei.  As a result, we must look elsewhere.

The Chinese legal system provides several routes for transferring jurisdiction over a case from one court to another.  For example, pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Law and the Law on the Organization of the People’s Courts, a lower level court with jurisdiction over a major or complex case can request a higher level court to take over the case.  But because Gu Kailai was charged with a capital crime, we can rule this path out.  Article 20 of the Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that intermediate level courts have jurisdiction of first instance over crimes punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty and, because this case was actually tried by an intermediate level court, a lower court could not have had jurisdiction over it first.

One jurisdictional route rises above the rest.  Article 26 of the Criminal Procedure Law provides that: “A People’s Court at a higher level may assign a People’s Court at a lower level to try a case over which jurisdiction is unclear and may also instruct a People’s Court at a lower level to transfer the case to another People’s Court for trial.”

Article 26 can be parsed in different ways, with different results attaching.  To resolve the ambiguity, we must do what we do in any legal system, move beyond the four corners of the statute to consult supporting texts and practice, both of which indicate that the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) essentially regards Article 26 as comprising two independent clauses, the second of which matters here.  Hence we get: “A People’s Court at a higher level may… instruct a People’s Court at a lower level to transfer the case to another People’s Court for trial.”

The authoritative SPC Interpretation on Certain Questions Pertaining to the Implementation of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC (“the SPC Interpretation”) stipulates two ways that can happen.  First, under Article 18 of the SPC Interpretation, when the President of a lower level court must recuse himself[1] and it would be “unsuitable” for that court to assert its jurisdiction over a case, that court may ask a higher level court to take over jurisdiction.  The higher level court may take jurisdiction or assign it to another court at the same (lower) level as the first court.  Article 19 of the SPC Interpretation requires the higher court to send its decision on jurisdiction – 管辖决定书 (guanxia juedingshu) – to the lower court newly awarded jurisdiction and to other relevant courts.  Second, Article 22 of the SPC Interpretation allows a higher level court on its own initiative to assign jurisdiction over a case from one lower level court to another lower level court “when necessary,” without first requiring a request from below or that the second court be of the same level as the first.

Admittedly, we know few hard facts about the procedural history of the Gu Kailai case, but one nugget stands out.  The Xinhua reporting on the trial indicates that the SPC issued a decision on jurisdiction to the Hefei Intermediate People’s Court, and the Hefei court accepted the case for trial on that basis.  We do not know precisely whether this decision was based on Article 18 or 22 of the SPC Interpretation, as either might reasonably have applied, but the SPC evidently used its inherent power under Article 26 of the Criminal Procedure Law, as expounded in the SPC Interpretation, to transfer Gu’s case to Hefei.  One may furthermore assume that the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued complementary instructions so that procurators would actually argue the case there, too.

The Supreme People's Court

Assuming that the SPC complied with its own Interpretation of the Criminal Procedure Law, we may infer from its decision on jurisdiction that another court originally accepted the case.  We do not know which court that may have been, but an obvious candidate would have been the Chongqing Intermediate People’s Court.  Under this scenario, three possibilities present: first, the unnamed court claimed jurisdiction over the case without the approval of senior Party and judicial authorities in Beijing, which seems implausible; second, Beijing granted its approval and then changed its mind; and third, acceptance by the unnamed court served, in the interests of formal compliance with procedural requirements, purely as a trigger for transfer to Hefei.  Regardless, as the highest court in the land, once the SPC transferred jurisdiction, the decision was effectively immune from challenge or appeal.

In comparison, the Wang Lijun case is more straightforward.  At least one of Wang’s alleged crimes took place in Chengdu: his purported “defection” in the United States consulate.  Notwithstanding substantive problems matching the facts as we know them to the elements of this crime, Chengdu judicial authorities may properly claim jurisdiction over the case under Article 25 of the Criminal Procedure Law (discussed above), and barring an unlikely protest from their counterparts in Chongqing or any other locale in which Wang is alleged to have committed crimes, the trial will take place in the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court.  Indeed, given the stakes in trying Wang, one may assume that the SPC, and the political leadership behind it, assents to Chengdu jurisdiction, either tacitly or by assignment.  When the verdict is announced, we may know which.

Historically, reassignments of lower court jurisdiction by higher level courts are not uncommon in the Chinese judicial system, where concerns about local protectionism, judicial independence and varying levels of judicial competence adversely affecting trial outcomes run high.  The 2008 criminal trial of former Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu in Tianjin is another prominent, recent example.  Cases like those of Chen Liangyu and Gu Kailai shine a spotlight on one of the Chinese judicial system’s underappreciated features.


[1] Article 28 of the Criminal Procedure Law defines the grounds for recusal, including “relations with a party to the case that could affect the impartial handling of the case.”

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