Monday, November 12, 2007

U.S.--China Rule of Law Forum

Today, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the U.S.-China Rule of Law Forum. The U.S.—China Rule of Law Forum is an exchange program, sponsored by Senator Kaye Bailey Hutchinson (Texas), and it is hosted by Dean Attanasio at the SMU Dedman School of Law. Because of the high profile of the Chinese delegation and the lively discussions during the program, it is one hour well spent, and I’d like to share what I witnessed.

First, the Chinese delegation consists of a group of people from various legal backgrounds. Some are law professors, such as Professor Lixin Yang; some are from the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress; some are from the Ministry of Justice; some are from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate of China; and a few are from private practice; and a Grand Justice, Mr. Liu Jiachen of the Supreme People’s Court, was also a member. In sum, the delegation is good mix of people with substantial knowledge about the development and reform in China’s legal system.

Second, Madam Liu gave a 30 minute keynote speech, titled the Legal Situation and Law Reform in China. During her speech, she briefly highlighted China’s achievement in comprehensive legal reform since the late 1970s. She cited some interesting statistics: in the past 30 years, China enacted about 230 laws, 1000 administrative regulations, and over 10,000 local rules and regulations throughout the country. In the meantime, China also amended and appealed many laws to weed out those no longer in sync with the Chinese society. As a result of these developments, China has established political, social, economic relationships in a brand new legal system governed by law. And the establishment of the legal system has led to specifications of rights and duties of parties, methods of dispute resolution, and a fundamental state policy—rule by law.

Madam Liu was also quick to note the long way ahead of China’s efforts to build a society ruled by law. Much has been accomplished, yet much remains to be done. In the long way ahead, China is willing and ready to borrow from legislative successes from other nations, including those in the common law system. She specifically noted the legal accomplishments of the United States in building a system of the rule of law that works for the U.S., and in training “an army of a million lawyers.”

Her identification with the U.S. legal system quickly turned into a discussion about the importance of building individual legal systems appropriate for each sovereign nation. Each nation has the right to choose a legal system based its own historical, social, and economic backgrounds. And a recognition of the uniqueness of legal systems in different countries help build a world with diverse and colorful legal systems.

Then, Madam Liu calls on the U.S. and China to cooperate in building stronger mutual understanding on the rule of law. In the context of increasing globalization, nations need to work together to achieve justice, build equality, and resolve conflicts. To achieve that, many Chinese students are choosing the study of law, making law practice a fast growing professional area.

Third, I post only the highlights of the Q & A session that I was able to jot down.

Question 1 (SMU law student)—How much deference do courts give to the Chinese communist party opinions/directions in reaching their decisions?

Answer (Grand Justice Jiachen Liu)—Judicial independence is protected by the Chinese Constitution. The judiciary works very hard to try cases independently and their work is in line with the will of the people. Some people in the West misunderstand judicial independence in China, and ignores that China has chosen its own path for its judiciary, which serves China well.

Question 2 (SMU law student)—How will Hong Kong’s common law system mesh with China’s legal system in the coming years?

Answer (member from the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress)—Hong Kong is currently governed by its own Basic Law, under which judicial judgments are independent and final. Even though the judicial systems in China and Hong Kong are widely different, the Central Government and Hong Kong (SAR) Government can operate under the Basic Law to resolve differences. However, if issues concerning technicality cannot be resolved that way, the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress has the power and authority to issue its own interpretation, which will be controlling in resolving such technical differences. This has been done and been accepted by the people of Hong Kong.

Question 3 (SMU reference librarian)—China currently has a compilation system for laws based principally on the date of promulgation. What kind of progress has China made in creating a comprehensive code, like the US Code, to make research on Chinese law easier?

Answer (Member from the Standing Committee)—It is still a work in progress; and it has been a problem for our own researcher as well. We have made some progress in building a comprehensive legal database of laws and regulations. That should make researching easier if you have the URL to that website.

Question 4 (SMU student, me)—China recently revised its Lawyer’s Law to make lawyers’ lives easier. But one persistent issue still seems to loom at large. Article 34 of the Lawyer’s Law requires a lawyer to keep his client’s secret information confidential (i.e. past crime), but Article 84 of the Criminal Procedure Law requires any individual to report any information about crimes to law enforcement authorities. If we consider lawyers as individuals in the sense of the Criminal Procedure Law, there is an apparent conflict between the two laws. How should a lawyer deal with this issue in his/her practice?

Answer 4 (Law professor, Bingzhi Zhao)—As a law professor and a part-time practicing attorney, I hope to answer this question. On the surface, there seems to be a conflict. However, there is no direct conflict. If you look at the apparent conflict in the frame of the relationship between laws, it looks very different. Some laws are special, such as the Lawyer’s Law. Because lawyers enjoy an immunity from the reporting duty under the Criminal Procedure Law while representing a client, the conflict goes away in that situation. In the past decade since the promulgation of the Lawyer’s Law, this apparent conflict was consistently dealt that way.

[Sidebar: another delegate told me in private conversation that the Criminal Procedure Law will soon be amended, which will probably deal with the conflict.]

Question 5 (SMU law student)—Would you please talk about China’s efforts in intellectual property protection?

Answer—IPR protection is both a Chinese and a global issue. Since China’s entry to the WTO, China has paid more attention to IPR protection in a three-pronged approach: legislation, administrative agency enforcement, and police involvement. In terms of progress made in China, here are the statistics:
2002—2006, about 54,321 IP cases were filed in various courts; 52,000 cases were adjudicated by courts. Compared to the same 5 year period between 1997 and 2001, those numbers represent a growth of 145% and 141%, respectively.

By 2006, China has 172 courts devoted to try IP cases.

China has 16,600 judges specializing in IP cases.

Question 6 (SMU law student)—What type of legal regime does China have in dealing with product liability in light of the recent product recalls?

Answer (Professor Lixin Yang)—China actually borrowed heavily from the American and British common law in creating its own product liability law. In 1986, the General Principles of Civil Code was passed, whose Article 122 is devoted to tort liability. While China is in the middle of creating its comprehensive Civil Code, the Tort Law will be lifted out of general provisions and be an independent body of law in the Civil Code. In a civil law system, it is rare to have an independent Tort Law. And the Tort Law will probably come out either next year or in 2009.

I hope that you enjoyed my long notes from this function. It was an incredible experience for me.


Todd Platek said...

Brad, Thank you very much. TLP.

Brad Luo said...

Glad to share this experience.