China's chief justice Wang Shengjun. (Photo/Xinhua)
The heads of China's top judicial organs gave their reports to the annual meeting of China's parliament on Sunday, emphasizing improvements in transparency and in tackling official corruption, though conceding that there remain problems in achieving a justice system that is independent, transparent and competent.
Addressing the nearly 3,000 deputies of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People, the country's chief justice Wang Shengjun said China's courts convicted over 5 million people between 2008 and 2012, an increase of 25% over the previous five-year period. Among them, 20,000 people were convicted of crimes connected to unsafe food and substandard products, an issue that has become a major matter of public concern.
On the country's use of the death penalty, an area where China has long been criticized by international human rights groups, Wang said the country's judiciary has sought to cut back on its use of capital punishment and the supreme court has carefully reviewed cases where the death penalty has been handed down. "We have ensured capital punishment is imposed on a very small number of people convicted of extremely serious crimes," he said, also noting that the death penalty has now been ruled out for a number of non-violent economic crimes.
Efforts have been made to increase the transparency of court proceedings, Wang said, with reports of judgments placed online and parties able to follow how their cases are proceeding through court websites. The past five years have also seen an expansion of the people's jurors system, with selected members of the public taking part in nearly 1.5 million cases last year, though this still represents only a small proportion of the more than 55 million cases that the country's courts have handled over the past five years.
Wang admitted that more still needs to be done to ensure the independence and competence of judges and to improve transparency. He conceded that many judges are not capable of handling complicated cases properly and that instances of corruption or dereliction of duty have harmed the public's perception of the justice system.
China's top prosecutor, Cao Jianming, followed Wang's report and said that some 13,000 officials at county level and above have been investigated for misconduct over the past five years, including 30 at ministerial level and above.
Underscoring the fight to clean up abuses of the legal and judicial system, Cao said that nearly 37,000 law enforcement officials and nearly 13,000 judicial staff had also come under investigation. The Supreme People's Procuratorate under his command has also put measures in place to encourage members of the public to blow the whistle on corruption, Cao said, including an anti-corruption hotline and website with greater protection for witnesses.
The session on Sunday also highlighted the government's efforts to increase internet security and tackle online fraud. While the government claims these measures are intended to protect the privacy and interests of China's hundreds of millions of internet users, many observers see them rather as chiefly aimed at stifling the increasingly lively public debate on the country's popular social networking platforms. Forums like Sina Weibo, China's leading equivalent of Twitter, have been a key means for members of the public to blow the whistle on corrupt officials and the government's censorship apparatus has been forced to devise new ways to prevent the spread of sensitive information and criticism of the government and party.