Xinhua just reported that China has launched a website broadcasting court trials. Live streaming of court hearings, despite its obvious restrictions and selectivity, is a good step forward in expanding public awareness of China’s courts and of various legal principles and their application in daily life. This is part of an effort to increase popular respect for the judicial process, which has been widely mistrusted.
This welcome initiative should be understood together with the recent effort to increase the prestige of judges and prosecutors by winnowing out many official legal staff who bear the label of “judge” or “prosecutor” but who do not have the competence or seriousness to carry out the work expected. The idea is to create a judicial elite separate from the regular bureaucracy and to try to reduce the roles of corruption, “guanxi” (relationships), local protectionism and local Party and government influence upon court decisions.
Streaming will not only challenge prosecutors and judges to look and do better in action but also lawyers. It will be interesting, for example, if lawyers in the new spotlight will learn to cross-examine witnesses in court. But that will require changes in the system requiring witnesses to show up in court rather than merely give written testimony that allows them to escape cross-examination, which has often been called the greatest instrument for the discovery of truth in a legal system.
P.S. I don’t believe the court hearing reported here ("China jails women's rights campaigner after torture in detention") was selected for live streaming!