China's law reforms clarify rights of people, businesses: Experts

China's law reforms clarify rights of people, businesses: Experts
Decorative plaques featuring Chinese leaders of the past and present, including current president Xi Jinping (front) are seen at a souvenir stall in Beijing on October 24, 2014.

CHINA - The Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) pledges of legal and judicial reforms have prompted analysts to cite changes that might have practical, meaningful impact on the public and businesses, even as the Chinese media hailed the reforms as a "historic step".

Among the reforms listed in a communique on Thursday, when the fourth plenum of the CCP's Central Committee ended, was making officials culpable for policy errors even after leaving their posts.

The Global Times tabloid, which is linked to the CCP, said in an editorial yesterday that the decision to set up a "life-long liability system for major decisions" will help curb irresponsible decision-making.

"There are some large-scale infrastructure programmes which failed to carry out their due functions in China, such as the 'ghost towns'," it added.

"Such a terrible waste of public resources is a result of a lack of scientific and democratic procedures, but it's hard to hold officials accountable for their wrong decisions."

Wuhan University law professor Qin Qianhong told The Straits Times that the plenum's pledge to improve how China's Constitution is implemented and monitored will also have positive knock-on effects.

"It means the powers of state organs will be better defined, which will give more clarity to citizens and enterprises in knowing whether their rights have been infringed upon," he added.

Chinese law expert Donald Clarke of George Washington University said the proposal to "make the trial the centre" of litigation is intriguing in view of the almost 99 per cent conviction rate in Chinese courts.

"In other words, matters litigated should be decided at the trial itself, not before the trial in opaque, out-of-court processes," he wrote in a blog on Thursday.

"At least in criminal trials, this would be a major change from the current practice, where a case typically does not get to the trial stage unless the authorities, including the court, are satisfied as to the defendant's guilt."

In general, the four-day plenum, which focused on the rule of law for the first time, is seen to have lived up to most people's expectations even before a "full decisions" document containing details of the reforms is released in the coming days.

This was unlike the CCP's third plenum last November, where the initial communique on Nov 12 was seen as a letdown until a "full decisions" document three days later listed 60 reform tasks that revealed President Xi Jinping's resolve and powerbase.

Analysts say there is little letdown as long as no one was hoping that the CCP would introduce institutional changes that subjected itself to the law. In fact, the plenum is a clear sign that China is now advancing its own concept, defined as "socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics".

This is seen in the 5,386-word communique, which states how judicial reforms can take place only under, or should serve to cement, the CCP's leadership. There were 15 mentions of "CCP leadership" in such instances.

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