China’s Communist leaders promised legal reforms on Thursday that could give judges more independence from interference by local officials but will leave the party essentially above the law, after a high-level meeting that had been billed as a pivotal moment in the country’s legal history.
After a four-day closed-door session, the party’s elite Central Committee pledged to promote “the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics.”
Far from a Western notion of the separation of powers, the communique made it clear the Communist Party remained the ultimate authority in the country, and talk of reform seemed largely aimed at improving local governance and calming rising social unrest.
Protests and violence often break out in China over land grabs and pollution, with angry residents feeling as if they have no recourse to the law against corrupt local officials in league with developers and industry. Changes to the system are expected to be slow and modest, and few details were released on Thursday, barring some vague promises.
Courts should be removed from the jurisdiction of local officials but will still be answerable to the party at a higher level, the communique pledged; files should be kept to record when party officials get involved in legal matters, while judges should be chosen from the ranks of legal professionals.