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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
China vows to overhaul courts
Chinese military police
A military career was the old route to being a judge
China's chief justice has promised sweeping reforms of the law courts and better training of judges, state media has reported.

Xiao Yang, president of the Supreme People's Court, said "incompetent" judges were making the system unfair.


Courts have often been taken as branches of the government

Xiao Tang, president of the Supreme People's Court
Most of China's more than 200,000 judges have no legal training and have traditionally being appointed for political reasons.

But under a five-year reform plan, judges would have to pass professional exams or lose their jobs, Mr Xiao was quoted as saying.

"Judges must have the qualifications civil servants have, but they must also have professional qualifications," Mr Xiao told a weekend legal conference.

"Some judges without proper educational background and professional knowledge and experience have been selected."

New judges

More than two thirds of judges do not even have a college degree, only a vocational training degree and not necessarily in law, according to earlier reports by Chinese media.

Starting this year, new judges would have to pass two exams and undergo professional training, Mr Xiao said.

In another major change, clerks would no longer be eligible to be promoted to the bench after a number of years in office.

The reforms should mean that judges would no longer blindly follow orders from superiors, Mr Xiao said.

"Courts have often been taken as branches of the government, and judges viewed as civil servants who have to follow orders from superiors, which prevents them from exercising mandated legal duties like other members of the judiciary," he said.

China has made several promises to overhaul its legal system but now that China is a member of the World Trade Organisation, it is under greater scrutiny from foreign investors.

The BBC's Shanghai correspondent, Francis Markus, says Mr Xiao's comments suggest that implementing this raft of reforms throughout China is still a tough challenge.

Such issues as how to fund the court system, allowing it to operate without interference from local officials, remain unresolved.

Even if the chief justice is successful, some western legal experts in China say his changes still fall short of deeper institutional reforms.

See also:

02 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
03 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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