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China's Supreme People's Court Rejects Western-style Judicial Independence

As Xi Jinping tightens control over the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), further restricts freedom of speech and revives Marxist and Maoist ideology, the judicial system, too, is undergoing a conservative counter-reformation aimed at strengthening the role of the Party and excluding possible reforms inspired by the judicial system of liberal countries. 

According to China News, on February 25 the Party leadership group of the Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China released a statement stressing that the country must preserve "the judicial system of socialism with Chinese characteristics" (中国特色社会主义司法制度). At the same time, it strongly rejected what it described as "Western judicial independence and the separation of powers" (西方“司法独立”、“三权鼎立”). The Supreme People's Court said that the judicial system must "resolutely resist the influence of wrong Western thought and wrong Western viewpoints."

On February 10 the Supreme People's Court had convened a meeting of the Party leadership group in order to study and thoroughly understand Xi Jinping's speeches regarding "the methodology and world outlook of dialectical materialism" and of Marxism. The meeting was presided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme People's Court Zhou Qiang (周强) and Grand Justice Shen Deyong (沈德咏). The Court also invited Han Qingxiang (韩庆祥), the current vice-president of the Central Party School of the Communist Party

The study group emphasized that it will "steadfastly follow the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics." It stated that it will implement the principles of "comprehensively building a moderately affluent society", "comprehensively deepening reform", "comprehensively ruling the country according to the law" (依法治国) and "comprehensively strictly govern the Party and providing powerful judicial guarantees". The resolution of the study group of the Supreme Court echoes Xi Jinping recently announced "four comprehensives", a list of four major theoretical principles that will guide China's future institutional and economic development. 

The Court issued a strong statement against the adoption of a liberal judicial system, which it described as "Western". It promised to "unrelentingly strengthen the self-confidence in the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, in our principles and in our system ... and resolutely resist the influence of Western principles such as 'judicial independence' and 'the separation of powers' [legislative, executive and judicial], to reject wrong Western thought and wrong Western viewpoints, and to ensure a completely clear-headed approach to matters of principle, a completely steadfast standpoint, and a completely clear-cut stand."  

Xi Jinping's increasingly authoritarian and ideological style of government therefore rules out the long-awaited reform of the judicial system in the direction of judicial independence. 

As Randall Peerenboom has pointed out, "a judiciary that is independent, competent, and enjoys sufficient powers to resolve disputes fairly and impartially" is the prerequisite for the establishment of rule of law. "China's judiciary," argues Peerenboom, "falls short on each of these three dimensions." (see Randall Peerenboom: China's Long March toward Rule of Law, 2002, p. 280). 

In theory the PRC Constitution provides that the courts shall "exercise judicial power independently and are not subject to interference by administrative organs, public organizations or individuals."

However, in practice the courts cannot be independent because, according to Article 128 of the PRC Constitution,  the "Supreme People's Court is responsible to the National People's Congress and its Standing Committee. Local people's courts at various levels are responsible to the organs of state power, which created them." 

Courts are therefore subject to Party control and supervision. Not surprisingly, the members of the Supreme People's Court, such as the Chief Justice and Grand Justice of First Rank, are also members of the Communist Party. 


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