Don’t ne­glect pub­lic in­ter­est, courts told

China Daily - - CHINA - By CAO YIN

Chi­nese courts have been or­dered to in­crease their ef­forts to han­dle pub­lic-in­ter­est law­suits brought by pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­i­ties, af­ter a suc­cess­ful pi­lot pro­gram was rolled out na­tion­wide.

The two-year pi­lot pro­gram, which started in July 2015 af­ter ap­proval by the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the National Peo­ple’s Congress, the top leg­is­la­ture, gave pros­e­cu­tors the power to sue poorly per­form­ing gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and business agen­cies. The idea was to im­prove com­pli­ance with the law by ad­min­is­tra­tors and fac­to­ries.

“In the test pe­riod, more civil and ad­min­is­tra­tive cases were brought by pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­i­ties, which has con­trib­uted a lot to push­ing gov­ern­ment de­part­ments to do their jobs and ef­fec­tively pro­tect the pub­lic in­ter­est,” Jiang Bixin, vice-pres­i­dent of the Supreme Peo­ple’s Court, said on Tues­day.

The lat­est data show that Chi­nese courts filed 831 pub­lic-in­ter­est law­suits brought by pros­e­cu­tors be­tween July 2015 and Septem­ber this year, with 455 of those con­cluded.

Now, the pro­gram has been ex­tended across the coun­try af­ter it was writ­ten into the Chi­nese Ad­min­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Law and Civil Pro­ce­dure Law in June.

The move en­cour­ages pros­e­cu­tors to play a stronger over­sight role to en­sure that lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and com­pa­nies fully carry out their du­ties in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, food and drug safety, preser­va­tion of State as­sets and the trans­fer of land rights.

It also “raised the bar for judges on han­dling such law­suits”, Jiang said, adding that there are les­sons to be learned from mea­sures taken by some of the courts in the pi­lot.

To im­prove the qual­ity of pub­lic in­ter­est case hear­ings, some prov­inces, such as Guizhou and Shan­dong, set up tri­bunals to study and hear dis­putes. They also crafted guide­lines to clar­ify the steps re­quired in the process.

Zhang Dechang, a judge from the Guizhou High Peo­ple’s Court, said that in ad­di­tion to tri­bunals, en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­perts are in­vited to help in­ves­ti­gate and eval­u­ate losses caused by pol­luters.

“What we want with our judg­ments is to urge gov­ern­ment de­part­ments or business agen­cies to im­ple­ment laws in a timely man­ner and up­hold jus­tice. The ex­perts’ ef­forts can save time in ac­quir­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal knowl­edge and so speed up our hear­ings,” he said.

Ap­plaud­ing the achieve­ments of the pi­lot pro­gram, Jiang, the SPC vice-pres­i­dent, or­dered Chi­nese courts to lay down pre­cise pro­ce­dures for mak­ing cases brought by pros­e­cu­tors more trans­par­ent and mak­ing the pub­lic in­ter­est a pri­or­ity.

“An on­line plat­form, such as WeChat, is also nec­es­sary to in­crease com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween courts,” he said. “We need to learn from each other as we han­dle these new types of law­suits.”

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