China's reform of juror system "fruitful"

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/4/26 7:31:48

Chinese lawmakers on Tuesday deliberated a bill that would extend the trial reform of the people's juror system by a year as part of efforts to increase public participation in legal proceedings and advance rule of law.

The bill, submitted by the Supreme People's Court (SPC), was reviewed by lawmakers at panel discussions of the ongoing bi-monthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), which runs Monday to Thursday.

China's two-year pilot program of the people's juror system of 50 courts in 10 provincial-level regions, including Beijing, Hebei and Heilongjiang, will expire in May. The bill suggests extending the trial reform period to May 2018.

Most lawmakers of the NPC Standing Committee made favorable comments about the extension.

"I agree to extend the trial reform by one year," said legislator He Yehui, while calling for guaranteed funds for the jury system.

"A national regulation on living allowance and travel expenses of jurors should be worked out to ensure smooth promotion of the reform," He said.

It is necessary to extend the trial period in order to gain more experience and ensure the targeted effect, Shen Deyong, deputy president of the SPC, told lawmakers Monday in his statement to the NPC Standing Committee.

Unlike the jury system in the United States, where jurors are randomly selected, jurors in China are chosen from a group of candidates recommended by local communities or authorities.

In Chinese courts, a juror exercises the same power as a judge but cannot hear a case alone nor act as chief judge of a collegial panel. Legislators, judges, prosecutors, police officers and lawyers are excluded from service.

A total of 13,322 jurors -- 4.3 times the number of judges at the 50 pilot courts -- have been selected to participate in the program, Shen said.

According to the pilot program, the number of jurors of a local court should be at least three times the number of judges.

In 2016, jurors at the 50 courts participated in hearings on 11,642 criminal cases, 64,917 civil cases and 5,213 administrative cases.

Hailing the reform achievements, Shen said the selection mechanism for jurors has changed from organizational recommendation to random selection from local qualified people in order to allow more people from different walks of life.

A large number of people familiar with public opinion were selected as jurors, Shen said.

According to the trial program, jurors are allowed to express opinions on the evidence and facts of a case, but not allowed to comment on which laws should be applied.

"Disparities remain on how to distinguish ruling on the facts of a case and the application of law in practice," Shen said.

In the program, the number of jurors required to sit on collegial panels has risen to five from the previous three.

The reform program increased the minimum age for jurors from 23 to 28 and proposed the requirement for education be lowered in rural and poor areas, where highly respected individuals could become jurors no matter their educational background.

By doing so, authorities find it is difficult to pick eligible jurors with appropriate professional backgrounds in handling specific cases.

"Some experts and lawmakers suggest that jurors be chosen based on their professions and that the selection procedure based on 'personal application and organizational recommendation' should be retained," according to Shen.

There should be a unified standard on the range of application, trial procedures and trial efficiency for collegial panels, Shen said.

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