China's laws reflect a complicated mix of party priorities, a Soviet-inspired system set up after 1949, and a raft of new legislation passed since 1979 to haul the country's modernising economy into line with those of major foreign investors like the US and Europe.
But the party still comes first. Laws are seen as a way to manage the economy and people's lives, rarely to protect them from the state or enshrine individual rights.
Law-making is also complicated. The National People's Congress is responsible for drafting laws covering areas like human rights and taxation. But in other areas, the State Council and local governments can legislate too. Even once laws have been passed there is no guarantee they will always be respected.
Often provincial governments and state-owned enterprises view court decisions as something to be negotiated, not obeyed.
And for the party and state, the ‘rule of law' is not allowed to undermine its own interests, as pro-Tibetan independence activists and followers of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement know to their cost.
Both main legal organs answer to the National People's Congress.
The Supreme People's Procuratorate is the highest legal supervisory body, charged with safeguarding the constitution, laws and people's rights.
The Supreme People's Court sits at the top of a pyramid of people's courts going down to the local level.
Public security organs are in charge of the investigation, detention and preparatory examination of criminal cases.
The people's procuratorates are responsible for approving arrests and initiating and providing assistance to public prosecutions.
Cases are heard and judged in the people's courts.
Courts not independent
Torture used to get confessions
Arbitrary detention without charge
Some prisoners sent to "re-education centres"
More than 1,000 known executions in 2006 (Amesty International figures)