In­terns make a case for time at top court

More than 200 law stu­dents have worked with judges on range of tasks since pro­gram was launched in 2015

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Holiday - By CAO YIN caoyin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Lawyer Xu Fen­fen en­coun­tered her first crim­i­nal case in­volv­ing a fa­tal­ity when she was an in­tern at China’s top court last year.

A mas­ter’s stu­dent with Zhe­jiang Univer­sity at the time, she was among some 40 peo­ple se­lected for in­tern­ships at the Supreme Peo­ple’s Court from Fe­bru­ary to Au­gust. She said she was grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity, and the six months she spent there showed her the im­por­tance of help­ing peo­ple.

Xu spent her in­tern­ship work­ing for the court’s Trial Su­per­vi­sion Tri­bunal, mainly help­ing judges deal with mat­ters such as tak­ing notes at meet­ings and writ­ing re­ports after re­view­ing cases.

The tri­bunal spe­cial­izes in re­view­ing in­flu­en­tial cases with com­pli­cated facts or those in which in­mates serv­ing sus­pended death sen­tences com­mit fur­ther crimes while in cus­tody.

“At the be­gin­ning, I was too fright­ened to turn to the next page when I saw pho­tos of the body in ma­te­rial to do with the case,” the 25-year-old lawyer said. “I was timid, but I had to read, be­cause my tu­tor judge asked me to com­ment after the re­view.”

Xu said be­ing an in­tern had been more chal­leng­ing than she had imag­ined. “The in­tern­ship was not an easy job that could be idled away,” she said.

The Supreme Peo­ple’s Court be­gan the in­tern­ship pro­gram in July 2015 to in­crease com­mu­ni­ca­tion and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween courts and law schools, which the cen­tral lead­er­ship had called for two years ear­lier, and to cul­ti­vate le­gal tal­ent.

More than 200 in­terns have worked at the top court since then.

The court says in­terns should be rec­om­mended by uni­ver­si­ties or col­leges, and work with judges in han­dling civil, crim­i­nal, ad­min­is­tra­tive and State com­pen­sa­tion cases. The time they spend as in­terns ranges from three to six months.

Hu Shi­hao, head of the court’s depart­ment for ju­di­cial re­forms, said jobs were clas­si­fied ac­cord­ing to stu­dents’ in­ter­ests and could im­prove their abil­ity to solve le­gal prob­lems.

Where dreams be­gin

Xu, who be­came an in­tern on Feb 14, 2017, said she did not know why she had to view pho­tos of the body when re­view­ing the case, as she had al­ready stud­ied the au­topsy re­port.

“But my tu­tor judge told me to be pru­dent and to com­pare the in­juries in the pic­tures with those in the re­port to dou­ble check whether they were the same, as it was a case in­volv­ing a death,” Xu re­mem­bered.

“Since then, the need to be pre­cise and cau­tious when re­view­ing crim­i­nal cases has been high­lighted in my mind.”

After han­dling sev­eral sim­i­lar cases, she was no longer afraid of see­ing such pho­tos and could calmly an­a­lyze them with col­leagues.

Xu said she be­came ad­dicted to crim­i­nal law after dis­cov­er­ing that a crime could in­flu­ence a sus­pect’s life, and even change it com­pletely. “I wanted to use my le­gal knowl­edge to save the in­no­cent and also to push for­ward the rule of law in our coun­try,” she said.

To pur­sue that dream, Xu moved to Beijing after grad­u­a­tion and is now a crim­i­nal lawyer at a law firm in the cap­i­tal.

Power of ex­am­ple

Sun Liang was a post­grad­u­ate law stu­dent at Beijing’s Ts­inghua Univer­sity when he served as an in­tern at the court’s No 1 Crim­i­nal Tri­bunal from Oc­to­ber 2015 to March 2016.

He helped judges col­lect case ma­te­ri­als, re­search crim­i­nal top­ics and write re­ports on whether death penal­ties handed down by lower courts should be ap­proved. He said the ex­pe­ri­ence was un­for­get­table.

Now 29, he works as a ju­di­cial as­sis­tant at Beijing Tongzhou Dis­trict Peo­ple’s Court. Sun said he de­cided to be­gin his ca­reer by work­ing at the low-level court due to the in­flu­ence of Ran Rong, a judge at the tri­bunal.

“It was Ran who let me know the im­por­tance of the rule of law, telling me it should be ful­filled step by step,” he said, adding the judge never com­plained about her work­load and taught him not to take small mat­ters for granted.

At the be­gin­ning of his in­tern­ship, for ex­am­ple, he of­ten replied “no com­ment” when he re­ceived a case or project he was un­fa­mil­iar with. “But the judge told me I should give an an­swer after search­ing for in­for­ma­tion about the new as­pects, as it was not only the work at­ti­tude, but also a chance to fill my knowl­edge gap,” he said.

He had also com­plained early on about spelling mis­takes made by court clerks. “But after I was asked to record the in­for­ma­tion of a case hear­ing, I re­al­ized it was too hard to en­sure ev­ery­thing was ac­cu­rate,” Sun said. “Go­ing through the notes and cor­rect­ing mis­takes after the trial is a must, no mat­ter what they are.”

Such mat­ters might ap­pear in­signif­i­cant, but Ran al­ways took them se­ri­ously, teach­ing Sun to re­spect each task and learn from them. When he fin­ished his in­tern­ship, she shared three tips with him: have a dream, work hard, and be a bet­ter man.

Although Sun is kept busy by the ris­ing num­ber of cases han­dled by the dis­trict court, he said he could shoul­der the bur­den be­cause it was some­thing he had learned from Ran.

Fur­ther to go

Yuan Gang, an as­so­ciate law pro­fes­sor at China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Science and Law, wel­comed the top court’s in­tern­ship pro­gram, say­ing it re­duced the dis­tance be­tween law schools and the ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties, helped stu­dents put their knowl­edge into prac­tice and im­proved the cul­ti­va­tion of le­gal tal­ent.

He said the United States, some Euro­pean coun­tries and Ja­pan placed a great deal of em­pha­sis on com­bin­ing le­gal ed­u­ca­tion with prac­tice. In Ger­many and France, for ex­am­ple, law stu­dents can only qual­ify as lawyers if they spent at least two years as in­terns at ju­di­cial or ad­min­is­tra­tive or­gans or law firms, Yuan said.

In Ja­pan, law stu­dents who wanted to work in field were asked to com­plete a one-year in­tern­ship at an in­sti­tute es­tab­lished by the coun­try’s high­est court, he added.

Zou Ji­aming, a crim­i­nal lawyer at King and Cap­i­tal Law Firm in Beijing, said: “Prac­tice is es­sen­tial for law school stu­dents. Many law grad­u­ates don’t know how to com­mu­ni­cate with judges and how to ques­tion their lit­i­gants, although they per­form well in schools. “Grad­u­a­tion doesn’t mean they can be com­pe­tent at le­gal jobs.”

Yuan sug­gested the top court spec­ify projects for in­terns, with tasks given to post­grad­u­ate stu­dents dif­fer­ent from those given to un­der­grad­u­ates.

Sun said de­vel­op­ing a longterm re­la­tion­ship with former in­terns could boost the ef­fec­tive­ness of study and help solve le­gal prob­lems thor­oughly. “If the top court could fol­low our growth and re­ceive our feed­back after we leave there, I think it will help im­prove the in­tern­ship pro­gram,” he said.

LIANG LUWEN / FOR CHINA DAILY

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