By Jerome Cohen
There have recently been increasing signs of popular dissatisfaction with judicial handling of corruption cases in China. Of course, corruption cases are politically sensitive in every country and often involve influential defendants as well as accusers. Chinese courts are generally weak and unable to withstand political pressures to go along with what the Party-state demands. How can they overcome the instruction of the Party discipline and inspection teams and now the Party-run government supervisory commissions? It is much harder to vindicate rights in China’s corruption cases than in ordinary criminal cases, even if the case really involves only corruption rather than the continuing, if non-transparent, political struggle, local or national.
Thus far specific legislative improvements do not have much effect in Chinese practice. Moreover, it’s like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. The new supervisory system does not offer significant protections against the arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention and torture that mark the criminal process even now, almost 70 years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The fear that the current corruption investigation system engenders in the business and bureaucratic elites is undoubtedly slowing economic development. Certainly, democratic countries that are the principal hiding places for absconding corrupt elements are very reluctant to return fugitives to a country that plainly will not allow them a fair and independent criminal process.
China should face up to the need for genuine reforms in the administration of justice from the moment of detention through the appeal procedure. China should consider establishing special procedures for the handling of cases of returned suspects that could inspire the confidence of foreign countries and provide a model for reforming the regular criminal process.