Legislature Approves Reform of Jury System
(Beijing) – China's top legislature has approved a test of a reform plan to the jury system in a bid to expand public participation in the bodies that oversee trials, a move one expert says will prevent corruption in the judicial system.
On April 24, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress approved a plan submitted by the Supreme People's Court to launch the pilot reform of the jury system in 10 provinces and cities, including Beijing and the provinces of Hebei, Heilongjiang and Jiangsu.
On April 20, Zhou Qiang, the president of the top court, proposed a two-year pilot on jury operations in five courts in each of the 10 provinces and cities.
The pilot will include changes to increase the minimum age for jurors from 23 to 28 and lower education requirements. It will also change the selection procedure to allow broader public access. At least three jurors will be required to sit on major cases, up from the current two.
The decision marks a step toward a long-anticipated reform of the jury system, which has been in place since 2005. Unlike the jury system in the United States, where jurors are randomly selected, jurors in China are chosen from a group of candidates that are recommended by communities or local authorities and they have a five-year tenure. Many in the public complain that jurors fail to play their proper roles.
He Bing, the deputy director of the Law School at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said many jurors cannot participate in decision-making.
He said he expects to see some concrete changes brought by the latest reform efforts because the experiment intends to expand the number of jurors to 1 million.
The first batch of 27,000 jurors was appointed in 2005 and the number has since increased. In May 2013, the Supreme Court announced a plan to increase the total number to 200,000 by 2015.
He said three conditions are required to make jury play its desired function. First, jurors should be selected randomly; second, the verdict should be announced in the courtroom; and third, jurors should outnumber judges.
In addition, He said a mechanism should be in place to ensure the independence of jurors and protect them from harassment related to cases.
He said the reform of the jury system could lead to a breakthrough in democratic progress.
"The jury system is an important channel to send public opinion into the courtroom," said He, adding an effective system will help protect judicial independence.
He said a powerful jury system can also prevent corruption by imposing checks and balances on judges.
"Intervention in the work of judges may come from party and government agencies outside the court, but more frequently, it is internal connections affect judgments," he said.
According to Zhou, in the first quarter of 2013, 71.1 percent of court hearings had a jury present, a 52 percent increase from the same period last year. Since 2005, jurors have participated in 6.3 million cases.
(Rewritten by Han Wei)
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