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Authorities strive to increase the number of people and cases that qualify for legal assistance
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UPDATED: August 3, 2015 NO. 32, AUGUST 6, 2015
Upgrading Legal Aid

Legal aid has recently come into the spotlight once again given the Central Government's release of a document on further expanding the system in late June.

China established a nationwide legal aid network following the introduction of the Legal Aid Regulations in September 2003, whereby lawyers were organized into legal aid agencies set up by the government to offer free legal services to people facing economic hardship or involved in special cases.

Since the system's introduction, the financial input into legal aid by governments at various levels has grown rapidly. In 2014, the total amount injected into legal aid exceeded 1.7 billion yuan ($274 million).

Legal aid aims to protect the legitimate rights and interests of disadvantaged people. To date, legal aid agencies around the country have dealt with more than 7.53 million cases, providing legal consultation services to 9.07 million people. It is also an important indication of China's commitment to advancing the rule of law and establishing a moderately prosperous society.

Legal aid was made a target of social development during the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05), while the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2002 proposed promoting legal aid to make it an important gauge of China's political progress. Legal aid has been included in the economic and social development plans of governments at various levels, and legal aid expenses are covered by government budgets.

Despite these achievements, some problems still need to be solved, such as the shortage of staff members and the limited service network. Since China's legal aid system currently focuses on litigation, more needs to be done to promote investigative work. An effective mechanism is also required to help those in need of legal aid understand their rights. More than 70 percent of those in China who need legal aid have a poor educational background and know little or nothing about legal aid.

However, as the pace of the country's economic and social development has increased, so has the public's need in legal affairs. More people resort to legal aid to safeguard their rights, and they are increasingly dissatisfied with the quality and efficiency of the service.

The recent document addresses the public's concerns and puts forward detailed measures to expand the sphere of legal aid and raise the quality of the service. China's legal aid is expected to cover all areas of the law and be more accessible to disadvantaged groups. Work on drafting the necessary legislation to bring about these improvements is already underway.

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