After attacks on judges, insiders say building trust in courts is crucial

Source:Global Times-Agencies Published: 2015-9-22 19:08:01

In recent years, more and more judges are becoming the targets of attack by litigants who lost cases. Photo: CFP


Following several cases in which judges were stabbed, besieged or threatened, Chinese courts announced that they would upgrade security measures and tighten their protection of the lives and property of judges and their relatives. But that is not the fundamental solution to violent conflicts between judges and litigants. Experts say the key lies in improving how cases are handled, upholding justice, and rebuilding people's trust in the law and judges.

Liu Tan, mother of a 10-month-old baby, lies in a hospital bed with knife wounds to her breasts. She is haunted still by the nightmare that almost claimed her and three of her colleagues' lives a few days ago.

Liu is a judge at Shiyan Intermediate People's Court in Hubei Province. On the morning of September 9, she was visited at her office by Hu Qinggang, a plaintiff who has been on the losing end of a labor dispute case Liu presided over. Hu, 43, took his chance to vent his dissatisfaction about the result to her.

After Hu argued with her for 10 minutes, he took out a knife he had wrapped in a newspaper, and stabbed her chest. He almost stuck the knife all the way through her chest.

Zheng Fei, the other judge in the office, was stabbed seven times when he attempted to grab the 22-centimeter-long knife. Soon after, Hu stabbed another two judges who rushed to the scene from a neighboring office.

Hu was later seized by court police. Now under detention, he is waiting to be charged for his murder attempt.

The incident occurred just two weeks  after 19 court workers were besieged in a coal mining site while trying to enforce a debt dispute verdict in Xiyang county, Shanxi Province. The judges and their vehicles were rescued eight hours later with the help of local public security forces.

In China, especially in recent years, there have been several cases in which judges have been beaten, stabbed, attacked with sulfuric acid or even shot. Some judges have said that they are "dancers on a sharp knife," according to the People's Court Daily.

Legal experts commented that being a judge is now a high-risk profession. One major problem is the lack of trust between judges and the public, and the widespread belief that judges' verdicts are usually decided through bribery.

At a press conference on Monday, the Supreme People's Court pledged to protect the lives and property of judges and their relatives, and to offer them a safe environment to realize judicial independence.

Professional plight

After Liu and her colleagues were stabbed, many judges expressed fear that they might fall victim to disgruntled litigants.

"When being a judge becomes a high-risk job, who can the ordinary people depend on to maintain justice?" a young judge was quoted as saying by Guangzhou Daily.

Threats have become a commonplace feature of some judges' lives, said Liu Cheng (pseudonym), a judge from Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People's Court.

 "In our court, although no violence has occurred, our judges have been followed, their home doorbells have been rung strangely, or they have been threatened, either verbally or by e-mail," Liu told the Southern Weekly.

After the judges reported the cases, policemen would at most have a talk with the suspect and give them a warning, media reported. 

"But the number of court police is limited. And they can't follow us all day. The public security forces are also limited. So the psychological pressure on judges is always heavy, especially on female judges," Liu said.

In May, in a court in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, a judge got into a tussle with a litigant who came to complain about a verdict in an equity transfer dispute.

While netizens criticized the judge's behavior, the court revealed in August the results of its initial investigation, which found that the conflict occurred after the litigant threatened to follow the judge to his daughter's school so he could "see what she looked like."

According to a September report published in the Modern Gold Express, a Zhejiang-based newspaper, the judge has been suspended from work and is awaiting the results of a further investigation.

Rising pressure

According to a survey conducted by the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court, there are three scenarios which typically lead to violent confrontations between judges and litigants.

They are cases involving group interests such as labor disputes; enforcing judgments in other places or helping judges from other places to enforce judgments in a court's local area; and cases related to forced demolition, divorce and domestic disputes.

The Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court saw a total of 28 cases of violence against judges between 2003 and 2008. Besides petitioning and protesting, litigants threatened to commit suicide or kill judges and their relatives to seek judgments in their favor or vent their anger about the result of a case, the survey found.

The frequency of such violent cases has grown in recent years. A judge from the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court who participated in the survey told the Guangzhou Daily that this phenomenon is making judges reluctant to go to work.

In addition to external pressure, they also face demands to upgrade their competence in dealing with the increasing number of cases being brought to court.

China's ongoing economic development and deepening reform have led to many legal disputes breaking out. As the country lowered the threshold for courts receiving lawsuits, these disputes have flooded into the country's courts. But the number of judges hasn't increased to match the expanding number of lawsuits.

Official figures show that a total of 190,000 judges settled 8.5 million cases in 2003. In 2013, the cases which were settled by various courts across the country rose by around 50 percent to 12.9 million cases, but the number of judges only rose by 6,000, just 3 percent.

Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People's Court, also voiced his concerns at the legislative session in March.

"With the rapid growth of lawsuits and new kinds of cases, the judges face increasing workload pressure. In developed areas, front-line judges have to deal with up to 300 cases a year each on average," Zhou said.

Due to these hectic schedules, many judges have chosen to quit their jobs or have requested that they be transferred to other posts.

"The current judges don't match their titles. They have no sense of pride. The litigant can take their frustration out on them easily," Kang Donghui (pseudonym), who quit his job as a judge in 2012, told the South Reviews magazine.

He added that the judicial corruption has damaged the public's trust in judges in recent years and that judicial credibility has also dropped.

Rebuilding trust

While in custody, Hu Qinggang did not show any remorse for his attack on Liu but was angry while being interviewed by Central China Television. "You [judges] made me lose the lawsuit, you need to tell me why," he said.

Hu claimed an automotive company in Shiyan failed to pay him the wages they owed him for his five months of work there and asked for 65,000 yuan ($10,198) in compensation. However, in both the previous arbitration and the first trial in a district court in March, he lost due to a lack of evidence, according to the Southern Weekly.

He then appealed to the Shiyan Intermediate Court which handed down the same verdict as the pieces of evidence he offered were all photocopies and were not enough to prove his employment with the company.

According to Zhang Hua (pseudonym), a friend of Hu Qinggang's, Hu suspected that the company's boss had connections with the court.

"He is fixated on the idea that his boss is rich and must have bribed the judges," Zhang said.

Wang Yaxin, law professor from Tsinghua University, said the court is not entirely free of fault.

"The court can't confirm the employment relationship just with some photocopies. But it should demand the employer supply the original documents, instead of just denying the validity of Hu's evidence," Wang told the Southern Weekly.

Liu Cheng, the judge at the Shanghai court, believed that raising the quality of the judges' work would be the most important step towards reducing violence towards judges. "At least, we can avoid the resentment resulting from wrongful convictions," Liu said.

Soon after the Shiyan case, several places announced that they would upgrade security measures and facilities in courts. Hubei Higher People's Court required all courts to tighten their security checks on litigants and their belongings when entering courts.

In Guangzhou, litigants are prohibited from going into any room except courtrooms.

"Judicial organs are the last defense line of social justice. Society should give them more understanding and care, and the law should offer them better security guarantees," He Wenkai, a prosecutor from Fangchenggang, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, told the Global Times.

"If their right to judge independently can't be secured, the whole society's confidence in law will be shaken," he noted.

But security measures cannot solve all the issues.

"The key problem is that the Chinese people lack the concept of rule of law. They believe that a matter can't be settled without creating a disturbance," an anonymous judge told the Southern Weekly.

However, that abstract discussion isn't any help or comfort to the judges who still face this risk, especially Liu Tan, who still lies in bed with tubes sticking out of her body, struggling to rid herself of the terror she still feels.

Newspaper headline: Verdict violence

Posted in: In-Depth

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