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Unpublished Paper
A False Promise of Fair Trials: A Case Study of China’s Malleable Criminal Procedure Law
ExpressO (2010)
  • Rongjie Lan
China revised its Criminal Procedure Law in 1996, adopted an adversarial-style trial model, and granted remarkable procedural safeguards to the accused. Many have been tempted to conclude that this new law is capable of ensuring fair trials for criminal defendants and thus could improve China’s record of human rights protection. In this article, I argue that despite some progresses in formality, the new law is poorly implemented in practice and fails to fulfill its promise of fair trials. I examine two high-profile cases in detail to demonstrate how procedural safeguards prescribed by the new law are frequently manipulated by judges, either to pursue efficiency and convenience, or to accommodate outside influences, such as political concerns, public outrage, personal friendship, or even bribes. Through these manipulations, the essence of fair trials is largely missing, while wrongful verdicts, including false conviction or acquittal, and disproportionate sentences, are likely to be produced at the interferer’s will. I do not deny the reality that many of these problems are caused by institutional flaws in China’s criminal justice system, particularly the absence of a responsible judiciary. However, instead of pinning hopes on an unrealistic constitutional reform, I propose a technical approach, which focuses on restructuring the new law to make criminal trials less vulnerable against manipulations and interferences. This technical solution, in routine cases at least, would ensure a fair trial relying on the procedure itself, rather than on unreliable judges.
  • China,
  • Criminal Procedure Law,
  • Fair Trials,
  • Procedural Fairness,
  • Substantive Correctness
Publication Date
February 28, 2010
Citation Information
Rongjie Lan. "A False Promise of Fair Trials: A Case Study of China’s Malleable Criminal Procedure Law" ExpressO (2010)
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