April 27, 2017

Pro Bono Legal Experts Strengthen ABA ROLI’s Capacity Building Program in China for Criminal Defense Attorneys

Since 2014, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has partnered with China University of Political Science and Law to create a training model, Questioning Witnesses and Examination Skills Training (QWEST), to develop defense attorneys’ trial advocacy skills and increase their capacity to effectively represent criminal defendants and better protect the defendants’ rights.

The revised Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, which came into effect in 2013, envisions an increased role for defense attorneys by providing stronger evidence procedures and opening up for more effective examination at trial. As trial procedures in China undergo reforms, promoting the greater use of witness testimonies in order to improve the accuracy of court decisions, can better safeguard the rights of the accused and uphold procedural fairness.

The role of defense attorneys in Chinese courts has traditionally been minor compared to their U.S. counterparts. Unlike U.S. attorneys who work under the adversarial system, defense attorneys in China are viewed as symbolic participants in criminal cases rather than advocates for the defendants. As a result, they lack professional development opportunities to hone their critical thinking skills about case strategy and develop questioning techniques to draw out favorable testimonies from key witnesses, which are needed to enable more effective use of the new measures.

To provide expertise on questioning witnesses in criminal cases and introduce a participatory training style to QWEST, ABA ROLI draws on the expertise of two pro bono legal experts, Jennifer Lyman and Yiu Leung Cheung.

Lyman and Cheung demonstrated how to interview and direct and cross-examine different types of witnesses, including uncooperative witnesses and expert witnesses, and reflected on questioning strategies, such as how to order a series of questions to highlight the overall theory of a case. They also offered general pre-trial preparation and courtroom advice, and feedback on how participants could improve their skills. Through Lyman and Cheung, and the assistance of ABA ROLI staff, participants were able to engage issues that they found especially difficult, thus increasing the effectiveness of the training.

As one participant reflected in an anonymous survey, “The training session had an emphasis on interaction and participation, which are useful not only in trainings, but also when communicating with clients and colleagues.”

Lyman, who conducted the first training session, has more than 30 years of experience in leading cross-cultural legal trainings and lectures, and has done so in China on subjects such as legal aid and clinical legal education. Her strong cultural competencies and understanding of Chinese criminal law practices put her in the best position to bring other international practices into Chinese context. With more than 20 years of legal experience in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, Cheung, a practicing barrister, lent his thorough understanding of the Chinese legal system and practice during the second QWEST session. Cheung is an active legal skills trainer who has shown a longstanding commitment to the development of the legal profession in Mainland China.

The lively and interactive participatory teaching style also allowed participants to teach QWEST materials to another group of attorneys. Participants praised the demonstration of adversarial questioning and commented that while questioning witnesses previously seemed like a mystery to them, they now understand its purpose and principles, as well as how to approach witness questioning from a strategic, advocacy-oriented perspective.

“The skills I learned about questioning expert witnesses are very practical and helpful to my work. … Questioning techniques are very powerful tools,” said one participant in the anonymous survey.

ABA ROLI has been a leader in providing targeted training and facilitating international legal professional exchanges in support of China’s criminal justice reforms, as well as its ongoing environmental protection and anti-domestic violence efforts. Pro bono experts like Lyman and Cheung strengthen ABA ROLI programs tremendously, and have become invaluable resources to ABA ROLI’s efforts to facilitate the development of a prosperous, accessible and fair legal system in China.

To learn more about our work in China, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org