May 01, 2014

Chinese Experts Discuss the State of Legal Development in China

May 2014

On April 22, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative and the University of Pennsylvania Law School (Penn Law) convened a panel of Chinese legal experts in Washington, DC, to assess rule-of-law developments in China. Featuring a delegation from the Renmin University of China Law School, the half-day event highlighted findings of a report authored by the Renmin delegates, among other scholars, and published by Renmin University Law School on China’s legal development trends between 2010 and 2013. 

The panel discussion allowed the stakeholders to share information and ideas on ongoing rule-of-law efforts. 

Law professors from Penn Law, Renmin University and other schools, as well as representatives from U.S. government agencies and non-governmental organizations working on rule-of-law issues in China attended the conference. Discussions covered several topics, such as the role of lawyers and civil society organizations in promoting the rule of law, effective implementation of legislation and judicial reform.

Speaking about the professionalization of legal work in the country, professor Zhu Jingwen, who noted that the number of judges, procurators and lawyers has grown significantly since 1979, said that China’s increasingly efficient judicial system processes an ever-growing number of cases, a majority of which are civil cases. Judges are better educated and handle more cases on an individual basis, Zhu said, and lawyers are more readily available to those who need legal assistance. Similarly, the use of arbitration, especially in resolving labor disputes, has increased. Zhu added that while about half of all civil cases continue to be handled through informal mediation outside courts, improvement in performance of the formal justice system corresponds with a decrease in the use of alternatives, such as community-based paralegals. Citizens are using the court system more, according to the report, though there is greater reliance on informal mechanisms in rural areas because lawyers are concentrated in the country’s most developed provinces.

Discussing the existing legal framework addressing employment discrimination, professor Lu Haina said that relevant provisions  (scattered throughout a number of laws) have had limited impact so far because they are restricted in scope and lack details on enforcement and legal remedies. Lu added that lack of public awareness of regulations and their utility is another hindrance. Yet, civil society organizations (CSOs) have taken initiatives to alleviate the situation. Lu said that CSOs have been engaging and informing local media and conducting targeted campaigns to raise public awareness. They have also been advocating for policy reforms and filing public interest lawsuits, including lawsuits related to access to public facilities and services. She said that the organizations have registered progress in their efforts on behalf of women, the disabled and persons living with HIV.

The last speaker, professor He Jiahong, presented on developments in criminal justice, focusing on wrongful convictions and judicial reforms in this area. In his analysis of 100 wrongful conviction cases, he determined that false confessions occurred in 94 percent of the cases. He said that a survey of 1,715 judges, procurators, lawyers and police officers showed that the leading causes of wrongful conviction were low professional capacity, unclear laws and interference by authority figures. He described China’s 2013 Criminal Procedure Law, which in part was an effort to respond to the prevalence of wrongful convictions, as an encouraging change though he expressed concerns about whether China’s legal actors have been sufficiently trained to implement it properly.

To learn more about our work in China, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at