This past Thursday, March 29, 2012, International Bridges to Justice organized a roundtable event to discuss the impact and significance of China’s new Criminal Procedure Law (CPL). The event was attended by top Chinese and foreign scholars in the field, UN representative, and over a dozen diplomats. Held in Ford Foundation’s China headquarters, the purpose of the roundtable was to discuss the changes to the CPL, the effects it would have on criminal procedure in China, and implementation strategies. The event lasted three hours, and was received with enthusiasm from the attendees. The roundtable opened with an introduction to IBJ, followed by five substantive presentations on the changes, including: the new CPL’s effect on trial investigations, adjudication, juvenile cases, investigative techniques, cases involving defendants with mental illness, and the new anti-torture provisions in the CPL. IBJ’s China Director Aurora Bewicke presented on the new CPL’s impact on the work of defense attorneys in China. Presentations were followed by a discussion period, on topics such as plea bargaining, judicial independence, and implementation challenges. Importantly, the new CPL incorporates many positive provisions designed to protect the rights of the accused, including earlier access to counsel, expanded Legal Aid, mechanisms to compel witnesses to testify at trial, discovery procedures, additional protections for juveniles, the right against self incrimination, and enhancement of the presumption of innocence. The changes to the CPL will officially come into effect on January 1, 2013.
This January, as China celebrated the Spring Festival and another new beginning in the Year of the Dragon, Attorney Zhu Changjiang received a phone call early one morning from a familiar voice. Pengpeng, Attorney Zhu’s 17-year old former Legal Aid client, was calling to wish him a Happy Spring Festival, continuing a friendship they both still consider very important. In 2010, Pengpeng, a local in Shaanxi’s Fufeng prefecture, was forced to drop out of school due to financial instability after his father passed away. Later that year, while working at a local car wash, Pengpeng and a coworker came across a forgotten wallet in the backseat of the car they were working on. In desperation, Pengpeng and his coworker split the cash in the wallet, and discarded the evidence. Months later, in early 2011, the owner of the car reported the missing wallet, and investigators brought Pengpeng in for questioning. Afterward, he was arrested and prosecuted on suspicion of theft by the Xi’an People’s Court. Because Pengpeng was a minor at the time, the city’s procuratorate assigned Attorney Zhu the case, as a Legal Aid representative. Using training received through IBJ’s Duty Lawyer Program, Attorney Zhu took up the case immediately. He first attained all the case files from the local procuratorate, then met directly with Pengpeng at the detention center. Pengpeng admitted to the theft and wanted to compensate the owner of the wallet. Attorney Zhu helped him to reconcile with the victim and appeal to the procuratorate for prosecutorial immunity. Attorney Zhu advised Pengpeng to plead guilty, and promise restitution to the owner of the wallet. Attorney Zhu then appealed to the procuratorate review committee for immunity from criminal prosecution, because it was Pengpeng’s first offense, and he had repented for his actions. The procuratorate agreed with Attorney Zhu’s appeal, and granted Pengpeng immunity from criminal prosecution, giving him, instead, six months of community service. In the months that followed, Pengpeng realized how lucky he was to have such a proactive lawyer. Instead of serving jail time, he was released and could go back to work, providing for his family. Every week of his community service, he and Attorney Zhu spoke on the phone, and at least once a month they met in person. After the six months had come to a close, Pengpeng returned to normal life. Since the end of the case, though, attorney and client have remained in close contact, and Pengpeng remains ever grateful for the help he received.
Currently, Attorney Zhu and other IBJ Duty Lawyers continue to work on Legal Aid cases, representing the less fortunate, and fighting for justice.
This past weekend, beginning on Saturday, January 7, 2012, as some of the winter season’s first snow fell, International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) held a juvenile defense training seminar in coordination with China’s Democracy and Rule of Law Magazine at the Friendship Hotel in Beijing. The event was part of both IBJ’s Defense Empowerment Corps. (DEC) Program, as well as it’s Juvenile Justice Program. Sessions on Saturday and Sunday were well attended, with 39 people participating; including four DEC partners from Tianlan Law Firm, a representative of IBJ’s Clinical Program, as well as lawyers, professors, judges, and prosecutors representing several of the country’s top legal institutions. Also in attendance were several lawyers from Beilin, China, where IBJ is developing a new Juvenile Justice pilot project. The program started on Saturday morning, with an informational lecture about the upcoming criminal procedural law (CPL) amendments. Fan Chongyi, an esteemed professor and doctoral tutor from the Chinese Procedural Law Research Center, explained that the amendments to the CPL will take into account international standards and developments, and also must solve some of the present practical problems that China faces.
The afternoon session was highlighted by additional lectures discussing further developments of juvenile law in China. The next day, attendees participated in a roundtable discussion. The roundtable was composed of two sessions: First, there was a discussion on what effects China’s new procedural law will have on juvenile cases. Professor Yao argued for a need to increase education, in coordination with the developments in procedure. He believes that the “juvenile” definition ought to be expanded to not only include children up to 18 years old, but also youths, such as those studying in university, as well. In this way, “juvenile” criminal law can be combined to define youth not only physically, but also socially and psychologically.
There was then a heated, but cordial, discussion about how China ought to learn from the juvenile legal systems in the United States and Hong Kong, both which recognize that juveniles differ from adults, and have laws reflecting these differences.
The second part of the roundtable was a discussion on a specific case, allowing participants to argue evidentiary issues. And, because the defense attorney who actually argued the case in court was present at the event, it made for an even more lively debate. Though there were no conclusive findings for the case, participants were able to learn strategies for arguing cases, and came away with several considerations concerning juvenile law.
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In conjunction with several other activities relating to National Legal Publication Day, China’s International Bridges to Justice program cooperated with the Shanxi University of Finance and Economics to develop an on-site legal advice forum and disseminate legal rights brochures. A collection that included more than fifty students from the Shanxi University of Finance and Economics’ School of Law and communist youth league committee, as well as three representatives from Peking University, began by gathering to form a volunteer legal aid team in a small community in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. The team then made themselves available at a table set up on the community’s main road, and took legal questions from residents, offering advice and consultation for their legal problems.
The legal aid team answered several questions, many of which were related to the recent reform of the Marriage Act. The residents were explained the changes that had been made, and given advice on how to cope with the effects. Individuals also approached the students with more personal legal problems. Citizens spoke out about injustices that they noticed in their daily lives, and were shocked at some of the information they heard. The legal aid team explained that a lot of the time you do not need to endure unfair circumstances. Instead, you can resort to using the law as a means to solve your problems. The next part of the program concerned passing out legal rights brochures to local citizenry. The volunteers were working with the goal of increasing the legal knowledge of those in the community, and addressing the marked lack of willingness to use the law among the citizens. While developing a China where citizens understand and aren’t afraid to stand up for their rights is still a work in progress, it was clear from the reaction of participants that they appreciate IBJ’s mission. We hope that, in the future, everyone will be just as well informed.
As part of International Bridges to Justice’s contribution to China’s December 4th National Legal Publication Day this year, IBJ partnered with the Legal Aid Association of Shandong University to organize a legal rights awareness event in the Songliu Primary Migrant Worker’s School, with the goal of promoting legal education among migrant school children.
The event attracted a large and diverse crowd, with more than 250 migrant students in attendance. Apart from the children, there were 25 law students, 20 volunteers, 20 community members, 10 journalists, and five government officials who participated in the event. The total number of attendees amounted to greater than 340 people. Among other information, IBJ passed out brochures to participants highlighting the basic legal rights of an individual. Attendees were then quizzed on their understanding of these rights as part of a prize-winning contest. One girl was well prepared for the contest, even giving a detailed answer to a question with the words,” According to the 46th Article of the Constitution…” Many children enthusiastically participated in the question and answer sessions. Later, a mock courtroom trial was held, and questions were posed to the various school teams. The winning teams received prizes at the end of the trial.
Many of the participants personally expressed gratitude to those working and volunteering at the event. Some complimented the brochure, saying it has beautiful pictures and stories, while others commented on how the law is important to know, and use, and that the brochure was helpful in providing that knowledge.
Prior to the event, many of the school students had never been informed about their legal rights. Their school did not provide them with the opportunity to increase that awareness. In holding the event, IBJ was able to do its part in fulfilling a legal necessity of imparting that knowledge to the migrant student community. The students responded enthusiastically and passionately. The positive response by the students shows that the event was an overwhelming success, and that these types of events can create a strong impact on increasing legal awareness for communities that lack a legal support network in China.
November 9, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China – After attending the IBJ China staff retreat in Beijing, IBJ’s International Program Director Sanjeewa Liyanage took his final evening in China to give a lecture at the Beijing Normal University Criminal Law School. The lecture was made possible by Professor Wang Xiu Mei, a leading international criminal expert in China. Mr. Liyanage spoke to a room filled with attentive Masters and PhD law students, highlighting the need to end torture around the world, and in the criminal justice system, in particular.
Mr. Liyanage began by giving a comprehensive description of where torture is brought up in international law, and eventually went on to define torture, citing the UN Convention Against Torture. He explained how the Convention prohibits investigative torture, detailing torture clauses in various international treaties and statutes. He described how freedom from torture is non-derogable, meaning there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever that may be invoked to justify torture, including war, threat of war, internal political instability, public emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, and any form of armed conflict. From there, bringing the argument back to the students in the room, Mr. Liyanage highlighted that torture is prohibited in several countries in Asia, including China, and in particular under Chinese criminal law and criminal procedure law.
Mr. Liyanage also spoke at lengths about the current global torture situation. He mentioned where, when, and how torture is practiced, and that torture still regularly occurs in countries where it is expressly prohibited by law. He then posed the contradiction that there are several organizations around the world that work on torture issues, but they, for the most part, address the problem after the torture has already occurred. Instead, Mr. Liyanage argues, the most effective way to prevent torture from happening is to provide the accused with early access to competent and committed counsel. That way, with the presence of a lawyer at the time of arrest, a collaborative dialogue with stakeholders in the justice sector, and public awareness of individuals’ rights, we can prevent torture before it begins. He backed this argument by juxtaposing it with concrete examples of how IBJ programs have contributed significantly to reducing torture as an investigative tool in many countries and localities where IBJ lawyers are actively engaged in safeguarding basic legal rights of ordinary people. Finally, Mr. Liyanage concluded with an optimistic pronouncement that the solution is before us, and that torture can, indeed, be ended during the 21st century. He argued that, at one point, slavery and the apartheid were viewed as something that could not be easily brought to an end. But relentless and strategic efforts by social movements have ended these practices. He explained that to end torture we need to have the will to do so and a viable strategy, remarking that the strategy employed by IBJ could be expanded to reach this goal.
The lecture was very warmly received, and the students confidently posed questions. Many of the law students were so impressed, that they wondered how they could get involved with IBJ efforts in China.
On November 7, International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) brought together China’s three Defender Resource Centers in Beijing for a staff retreat. Members of the Wuhan office, Xi’an office, and Beijing office joined IBJ’s International Program Director Sanjeewa Liyanage for a two-day program of community building and program development through reflection on shared experiences and the collective values of IBJ. By bringing the individual parts of China’s IBJ program together, the staff was able to communicate, as a whole, the challenges, successes, and hopes we confront at IBJ, and in China.
The program began with an introduction meeting, where the staff was first asked to give their individual stories (the “me”), how our collective identities have come together at IBJ (the “us”), and, finally, the challenges, risks, and hopes that our community faces when dealing with the criminal justice system in China (the “now”). We found that although we come from very different places in the world, our experiences, values, goals, and fears are overwhelmingly similar. The principals of empathy and volunteerism were expressed as underlying morals we all share. We discussed how our collective dedication to human dignity and upholding the rights of the accused are both values that bring us together. Finally, the group summed up some of the challenges and risks we face in China, which everyone agreed are both greatly eclipsed by the hope IBJ has for the future of developing a fully inclusive criminal justice system in China.
Mr. Liyanage concluded the session by offering his “me, us, and now” story. His remarks solidified much of what had been discussed thus far during the meeting. On the second day of the retreat, staff members were introduced to the city. We took a team-building trip to Jingshan Park, which rises above the Forbidden City in central Beijing, and gives a panoramic view of the entire city.
The retreat was an overwhelming success, and, aside from highlighting some important plans IBJ has for the future, helped to develop a sense of community among China’s IBJ staff. Bonds were built, friendships were formed, and our time together reminded us that while it may seem we work in small offices located in cities around the world, IBJ is an international support network that works as a team to achieve its goals.
As part of the first public event held in IBJ’s new Beijing office, the National Defender Resource Center ran a survey last week to evaluate and improve IBJ’s eLearning modules. As part of the process, five lawyers from various law firms, as well as one law student from a local Beijing University, came to the office to view a selection of modules, and then reply to several survey questions developed by IBJ. The lawyers started to trickle in around 10:30 in the morning, and were put to work reviewing modules at 11. It took the participants around an hour to finish the modules and written surveys. Afterwards, we all sat down together to eat and share impressions. During the event, the lawyers responded to questions, asked several of their own, as well as posed their ideas, critiques, and recommendations for the eLearning modules.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Though there is always room for improvement, participants believed that the information on the modules is both accessible and valuable for law students and lawyers, alike. In addition, the modules are presented in an intuitive and user-friendly manner, making it both entertaining and informative.
As the goal of the survey was to glean some new ideas to develop and improve IBJ’s eLearning modules, it was an overwhelming success. The lawyers had several valuable recommendations to both improve the modules already on our website, as well as ideas pertaining to new topics for future modules. We are already hard at work putting their good ideas to use!
On September 17, IBJ’s Southeast Defender Resource Center coordinated a training with the Rizhao Legal Aid Center of Lanshan’s District Bureau of Justice in Shandong Province. The goal of this training workshop was to inform and train the members of Rizhao’s Legal Aid Center, particularly focusing on the theories and practices of criminal defense for the disadvantaged. Of the 109 participants comprised at the training, there was a vast collection of legal minds, including 45 legal aid lawyers, 52 private lawyers, and one judge. They came from across four cities, in both Shandong and Jiangsu Provinces. There were also eight government officials in attendance, including the directors of each Bureau of Justice from the Lanshan district of Rizhao, Ganyu District of Jiangsu, Wunan District of Weifang, and the port city of Lianyungang. The ceremony opened with addresses from the Directors of the Rizhao Legal Aid Center and the Lanshan District Bureau of Justice. They both expressed their appreciation for IBJ’s contribution to criminal justice and their interest in further cooperation with IBJ for future activities.
During the morning session, Wuhan University’s Professor Chen Lan made a speech on theories of criminal defense for the disadvantaged. He talked about the challenges generally faced by lawyers, and the problems of Criminal Legal Aid in China. He then went on to introduce the changes made to China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), before shifting to more practical topics, including interview skills and how to defend the accused, according to IBJ’s toolkit. As a part of the afternoon session, Shanquan law firm’s Wan Daqiang made a second speech expanding on the practical skills for defending the disadvantaged. He highlighted the importance of patience and enthusiasm when acting as a defense attorney, as well as the need for comprehensive knowledge of your client. Mr. Wan also went on to praise IBJ’s toolkit, and thanked IBJ for making strides to disseminate the important information necessary to defend the disadvantaged in China. It was rewarding to see how both speakers referred with such praise to IBJ’s toolkit, and even went on to express their own experiences of working with the disadvantaged and using IBJ’s strategies. It was clear that those in attendance were affected by the speeches, which led to animated conversations and discussions regarding IBJ’s strategies and their effect on criminal defense in China.
As a result of the training workshop, a union called the Lu Su Lin Gang Lawyers Union, made up of 12 law firms from four cities across two provinces, came into existence. This union has agreed to work cooperatively, and share the resources and information necessary to protect the rights of the disadvantaged. Those in attendance, as well as those here at IBJ, considered the event a comprehensive success.