Caixin
Aug 19, 2021 06:55 PM
CHINA

China Mulls Law to Ensure Defendant’s Right to Choose Own Attorney

The draft legal aid law stipulates that courts, prosecutors and public security bureaus will not restrict or infringe defendants’ rights to hire a lawyer by informing legal aid institutions to appoint lawyers, Xinhua reported. Photo: VCG
The draft legal aid law stipulates that courts, prosecutors and public security bureaus will not restrict or infringe defendants’ rights to hire a lawyer by informing legal aid institutions to appoint lawyers, Xinhua reported. Photo: VCG

China’s national legislature is considering a draft law that aims to better guarantee defendants’ rights to their own attorney when they are able to afford one, amid controversy over authorities’ push in recent years for legal aid lawyers to be appointed to handle criminal trials.

The draft legal aid law (link in Chinese) stipulates that courts, prosecutors and public security bureaus will not restrict or infringe defendants’ rights to hire a lawyer by informing legal aid institutions to appoint lawyers, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The draft was submitted Tuesday for a third reading to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the national legislature’s top decision-making body.

Legal aid is the provision of free legal assistance or legal representation for people who have financial difficulty in hiring an attorney in civil or criminal cases. China enacted regulations on legal aid (link in Chinese) in 2003, but the country has not formulated a specific law on it.

The draft law was submitted to lawmakers for first and second readings in January and June, with adjustments and changes added after deliberations.

During the second reading, Xu Xianming, a member of the NPC’s Standing Committee, suggested adding a stipulation to guarantee defendants’ rights to hire an attorney. He noted that some judicial bodies have asked defendants to not hire a lawyer and instead use the legal aid lawyer appointed by authorities.

Such practice deprives the defendant of the right to a defense and is inconsistent with the spirit of the rule of law and the requirements of procedural law, he said.

A recent criminal case has also highlighted the issue. In March, a driver, surnamed Zhou, was arrested on suspicion of causing death through negligence after a woman died after apparently jumping out of a van she hired.

Zhou’s family hired lawyers to defend him, but the attorneys were denied access to their client when they applied to meet him, Caixin has learned. The local public security bureau also asked Zhou’s family to not hire lawyers but instead to use the legal aid lawyers provided, according to Zhou’s family members.

In recent years, legal aid lawyers have been involved in several high-profile criminal cases, promoting public discussion over the quality of their legal service.

Apart from a provision to guarantee the right to a legal defense, the draft law also proposes that more legal aid resources be provided to the country’s remote regions, where they are insufficient, according to Xinhua.

Contact reporter Cai Xuejiao (xuejiaocai@caixin.com) and editor Lu Zhenhua (zhenhualu@caixin.com)

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