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First introduced in 1979 and last amended in 1996, the
PRC Criminal Procedural Law (中华人民共和国刑事诉讼法) is also called the
mini-constitution. Court proceedings in the mainland are
notoriously secretive, with the public and media often banned
The changes to the
Criminal Law now decrease transparency, as cases no longer
have to be tried publicly if they involve commercial secrets.
Previously, cases were only kept confidential if they involved
As is often the case with China's laws, however, the draft
amendments are unclear on what constitutes a commercial secret.
This change would mean that businesses in China will now have
to prove that their case involves sensitive commercial
information before the court.
The reforms come as Supreme People's Court President Wang
Shengjun delivered his annual report to the
National People's Congress. Wang said courts need to
improve transparency to create a better legal environment for
the country. Considering these reforms, it seems China's
judicial system is taking a step back despite Wang's call for
greater participation by the public and for allowing media
The contradicting views highlight a real problem with
China's judicial system. As the President of the Supreme
People's Court pledges transparency, the same body that
received Wang's speech is removing the public from some first
instance court proceedings. The move raises questions over
whether changes are possible within China's courts.
While the bulk of cases involving foreign corporations are
civil cases, the changes to the Criminal Law somewhat detract
from Wang's call to speed up civil cases involving small
monetary disputes as well as allowing the public to observe
trials. The President of the Supreme People's Court can propose
reforms, but ultimately power lies with the National People's
But it will be interesting to watch if Wang's proposals for
greater transparency and reforms under civil law come into
effect. Chinese courts are often subject to Communist Party
involvement and such reforms could pave the way to ending some
of this involvement. There is a chance Wang's reforms can
promote the development of a transparent and high-quality
judicial system in the People's Republic, but it all depends on
those in power.
By David Tring
Supreme People's Court, Evidence in Civil
Proceedings Several Provisions (最高人民法院关于民事诉讼证据的若干规定)
Reforming the Laws of Evidence in Civil