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UPDATED: October 27, 2014 NO. 44 OCTOBER 30, 2014
Charting a New Path
A significant Party plenary session dedicates itself to lifting the rule of law to a new level across China
By Li Li

MAPPING OUT THE FUTURE: The Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is held on October 20-23 in Beijing (JU PENG)

The Communist Party of China (CPC) set the blueprint for the rule of law in the world's second largest economy during a recent key meeting, which also highlighted the Party's leadership and the overarching role of the Constitution in the country's legal system.

According to a communiqué issued after the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, which was held in Beijing from October 20 to 23, the overall target of the CPC's current drive to advance the rule of law is to "form a system serving the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics" and build a country with socialist rule of law.

The communiqué said that "to realize the rule of law, the country should be governed in line with the Constitution."

The National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, and its standing committee should play a better role in supervising the Constitution's implementation, and a mechanism to examine the legitimacy of major decision-making should be set up for governments, with a lifelong accountability system for major decisions and a system for tracing mistakes to their roots, it said.

This marks the first time a plenary session of the CPC Central Committee has taken the rule of law as its central theme over the Party's 93-year history.

The plenary session also adopted a decision on "major issues concerning comprehensively advancing the rule of law."

In September 1997, the report adopted at the 15th CPC National Congress historically dictates "governing the country according to the law and making it a socialist country ruled by the law." During the 1999 constitutional amendment process, the exact dictate was written into the Constitution. Since then, the Party leadership has never stopped striving to promote the rule of law in China.

Less than one month after being elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping delivered an important speech at a meeting marking the 30th anniversary of the implementation of China's 1982 Constitution on December 4, 2012. Xi said that the supervising system that ensures the Constitution is carried out is not well established, and occasional dereliction of duty has dented the authority of the country's judicial system.

"No organization or individual has the privilege to overstep the Constitution and the law, and any violation of the Constitution and the law must be investigated," he said.

Explaining the decision on "major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms" after its adoption at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in November 2013, Xi said that judicial reform will be a major part of China's overall reform.

"The key to implementing the rule of law is to check the administrative power according to law. In other words, the state power must be restrained and private rights must be protected," said Guo Daohui, an advisor to the China Law Society and one of the earliest advocators of the rule of law in China.

The State Council said on September 10 that it will further cut administrative approvals and delegate more power to lower-level governments in order to promote efficiency and clear obstacles standing in the way of economic growth.

Lessons learned

The communiqué said that China will establish a mechanism in which officials will be given demerits or be held accountable if they are found interfering in judicial cases.

Li Zhuang, a former lawyer, was jailed in January 2010 after defending an organized crime boss in Chongqing Municipality in southwest China.

Li was convicted of falsifying evidence after the gang leader, caught in the municipality-wide campaign against organized crime, accused Li of telling him to lie about being tortured by the police. The campaign was initiated by Bo Xilai, then Party chief of Chongqing.

Li, who denied the charge, won wide support from lawyers, legal scholars and intellectuals nationwide, who were outraged by what they saw as widespread legal abuses during Bo's "strike black" campaign.

"The best possible model of the rule of law is that through an education on the masses on ethics, duty and discipline, they can obey laws voluntarily," said Li recently.

Tang Hui, a native of Yongzhou, Hunan Province, is known as the "petition mother." Her widely reported appeals helped bring about the abolishment of the reeducation-through-labor program.

She was put in a labor and reeducation camp in 2012 for petitioning for harsher punishments for those found guilty of raping her then 11-year-old daughter and forcing her into prostitution in 2006. Accused of disrupting the public order, Tang was sentenced to 18 months in the camp in August 2012, but released after just eight days following a public outcry.

In July 2013, a court in Hunan ruled in favor of Tang when she sued local authorities for infringing upon her personal freedom and causing psychological damage. Yongzhou labor camp administration was asked to pay Tang 2,641 yuan ($429) in compensation.

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