Friday, December 15, 2006

Law of Rules

So, say you have a government that doesn't allow any direct political competition but is still in need of a legal system in order to develop a modern, globalized economy. The country's citizens, having endured many years of arbitrary authority, centuries, in fact, see themselves as having certain rights, and many begin to use this legal system in order to settle disputes and stand up for their rights when they are being abused. Even political protestors have rights according to the country's constitution, and they too use the developing legal system to defend themselves. This puts the government in somewhat of a quandry. How can they build a rule of law and yet maintain their monopoly on political power?

Well, here's one way - require defense lawyers to cooperate with the government. A Human Rights Watch report released earlier this week charges that:
the rule of law in China has been sharply curbed by regulations approved in the spring by the All-China Lawyers Assn., which is in effect the nation's bar association.

The regulations require that lawyers representing political protesters be "helpful to the government," share otherwise-confidential information about their clients with prosecutors, and be of "good political" quality, generally a euphemism for dedication to the ruling Communist Party.

The new rules are "restricting access to justice, and access to justice is really a make-or-break issue for China today," said Nicholas Bequelin, the China researcher for Human Rights Watch. "You're shutting down the pressure release valve that's very badly needed in a one-party system."

Bequelin said the so-called Guiding Opinion on Lawyers Handling Mass Cases was approved by the lawyers association March 20 but was only officially published a month later and was all but ignored by the Chinese press...

As described by Human Rights Watch, the Guiding Opinion makes it clear that lawyers' first responsibility is to society, not their clients. "During these important times," the rules say, "correct handling of cases of a mass nature is essential to the successful construction of a socialist harmonious society."

"These regulations," Bequelin said, "spell out rules that are simply incompatible with carrying out your professional duties as a lawyer." He said they negated "the principle that is consecrated even in Chinese law, that the lawyer's duty is to his client."
Oh, and one more thing:
The rules also warn lawyers not to "stir up the news," and to take special care with international media.
I know! Talk about the Olympics!

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