Lawyers decry draft Criminal Law revision

By Yuen Yeuk-laam Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-28 0:43:01

Additional offenses may impose more limits on defense attorneys

More than 500 lawyers have called for a revision to the draft ninth amendment of the Criminal Law to be dropped, saying the revisions will impose more limits on defense lawyers and adversely affect defendants' interest.

A total of 529 lawyers across China have jointly signed an open letter opposing a revision to Article 309 in the Criminal Law, which aims to secure order in court. The letter was delivered to the All China Lawyers Association on Wednesday.

The letter opposing the amendment was initiated by several lawyers including Wang Quanping, Liu Shuqing and Chen Jiangang. The amendment to the article adds two additional offenses to China's criminal code: "insulting, defaming, or threatening judicial professionals or participants in [court] proceedings" and "other behaviors that seriously disrupt order in court."

Violators will be sentenced to no more than three years in prison, detention or be fined, the amendment noted.

The letter stated that the two additional offenses could harm procedural justice.

"'Insulting,' 'defaming' and 'threatening' are all subjective terms. Different judges and prosecutors may have different feelings under different situation and moods," the letter notes.

"The amendment is unclear about the definition of 'disruptive behaviors' and 'serious,' which is improper for a criminal law clause that should be explicit and precise to prevent judicial professionals from randomly and mistakenly interpreting the law," the letter added.

The letter also claims that the revision might further strengthen prosecutors and judges and harm the accuracy of court rulings.

Zhou Lixin, a Beijing-based lawyer who signed the letter, told the Global Times that the additional offenses put defense lawyers trying to secure their clients' rights at a huge disadvantage.

"Lawyers may not speak as freely as they used to because of the fear they may be charged," Zhou said.

"We suggest that the article remain unchanged," Li Changming, another Beijing-based lawyer, told the Global Times.

Article 309 currently reads "Whoever gathers a crowd to make disturbances, charges a court or strikes judicial personnel will be considered to have disrupted order in the court."

The signature campaign is still undergoing as the deadline for public consultation on the amendment is on December 3.

Wang Ping, a professor with the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times that the revision is understandable.

"There are many cases in which defendants became emotional and insulted judges and other judicial personnel after being convicted. It does not only happen in criminal cases but also civil ones. Since China does not have laws providing for contempt of court like some foreign countries, defendants who verbally disrupt order in the court usually will not be charged. The [revision] could help courts to maintain order," he said.

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