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
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.