Thursday, February 26, 2015

What does China's newly-issued 4th Five-Year Court Reform Plan mean for the military courts?

On February 26, 2015, two important documents with implications for Chinese military courts were released:
  • The Supreme People's Court 4th Five-Year Plan (the Plan), entitled "Opinion on Comprehensively Reforming the People's Court" (full text released). The text and translation can be found here and Wall Street Journal analysis is available here
  • The Central Military Commission's (CMC's) Decision Concerning Deeply Promoting Administering the Military According to Law and Strictly Administering the Military in the New Situation. Only a summary has been released, but it is stated that it was approved by Xi Jinping. The summary does not specifically mention military courts but they are likely addressed in the document. 
Item 9 (of 65) of the Plan addresses the military justice system, calling for improvement of the military judicial system under unified leadership, which protects national defense interests and the rights of military personnel and "strikes" at crime. Does "unified leadership" mean consolidating military courts in one institution under the CMC, as Professor Zhang Jiantian advocated in an article published earlier this month?

The Plan calls for major improvements in the criminal justice system, including better protection of criminal defendants, as well as significant changes to the trial process, as well internal operations of the courts. The extent to which these reforms aimed at the civilian court system can be implemented in the military courts remain to be seen. We await authoritative commentary on what can be expected, possibly by Professor Zhang.

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