China considers changes to public interest litigation rules

2017-06-22 09:00:47 GMT2017-06-22 17:00:47(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

BEIJING, June 22 (Xinhua) -- China has drafted amendments to the administrative and civil procedure laws to allow prosecutors to institute public interest litigation.

The draft amendments were given a first reading at the bimonthly session of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, which opened Thursday.

Prosecutors are to be allowed to file an administrative lawsuit for abuse of power or nonfeasance in cases concerning protection of environment and resources, food and drug safety, preservation of state assets, and transfer of state-owned land use rights, according to the draft.

They may also file civil lawsuits against any act that compromises public rights and interest in cases related to protection of environment and resources, as well as food and drug safety.

These areas have a direct bearing on national and public interest, said procurator-general Cao Jianming while explaining the draft amendments to lawmakers.

The draft amendment to the Administrative Procedure Law stipulates that prosecutors should make suggestions to government departments and push them to fulfil duties before taking them to court.

In July 2015, the Supreme People's Procuratorate began a two-year pilot program allowing prosecutors in 13 provincial divisions to institute public interest litigation in administrative and civil cases.

By the end of May 2017, procuratorates had handled 7,886 public interest lawsuits and filed 934 cases in the pilot reform.

In 4,358 cases, administrative departments took the initiative to correct the wrongdoings. In all the cases that eventually went to the court, judges have ruled in 222 cases, all in favor of the prosecutors.

Prosecutors in the pilot areas helped restore 128,000 hectares of arable lands, forests, wetlands and grasslands, urging more than 1,400 companies to rectify their behavior, and retrieved state assets worth 6.5 billion yuan (950 million U.S. dollars) in the past two years.

The practice of engaging prosecutors in public interest litigation has proven to be feasible, and is of great significance to promote rule of law and improve the socialist judicial system with Chinese characteristics, said Cao.

"Prosecutors push government departments to perform their duties lawfully by making suggestions before filing a public interest lawsuit against them, which will promote the law-based administration of government," Cao said.

Prosecutors' engagement in public interest litigation will safeguard the authority and credibility of law enforcement, he added.

Public interest litigation is fairly new in China. For years plaintiffs have been strictly confined to citizens, corporations, and organizations whose interests are directly related to a lawsuit.

An amendment to the Civil Procedure Law in 2012 first allowed agencies or organizations to bring litigation against those who undermined public welfare by polluting or infringing on consumers' interests, which was considered a major step forward in creating a public interest litigation system in China.

The revision to the Environmental Protection Law in April 2014 continued the process, allowing environmental organizations to institute public interest litigation.

Engaging prosecutors in public interest litigation was included in a comprehensive legal reform plan adopted at the fourth plenary session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee in 2014.