CHINA - Although the Party has decided to abolish the controversial "re-education through labour" system, a move hailed by legal professionals as a major step in protecting human rights, the official end of the half-century-old penalty system can come no earlier than late December, experts said.
The system, known as laojiao, was created in 1957 when the top legislature endorsed a proposal submitted by the State Council to allow laojiao committees to detain minor wrongdoers for up to four years without an open trial.
Inmates in labour camps are usually drug addicts undergoing treatment or other such cases in which the wrongdoing does not constitute a crime.
"Officially ending the system also requires the National People's Congress to declare the 1957 decision invalid," said Jiang Ming'an, a law professor at Peking University.
"That will make it possible to terminate the programme as early as late December, when the top legislature is scheduled to open its next bimonthly meeting," he said.
Yi Xiangde, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that both the courts and government would then have to issue new rules on how to handle offenders that laojiao currently deals with.
"We'll need judicial explanations on how to punish minor offenders. The Ministry of Justice will need to speed up community correction programs to fill the void after the laojiao programme is abolished," Yi said.
Under the current system, a laojiao committee consists of government departments such as police, civil affairs and education departments, usually with the police chief as its head.
Wang Gongyi, a former senior researcher with the Ministry of Justice, said no rigid procedures are in place to regulate how the committee should determine the criminal facts and apply punishment.
"It is not good for the protection of human rights to deprive a citizen of his personal freedom without a court proceeding," Wang said.