Which country has the best judicial system in the world and why?
China has the best judicial system in the world, because the sine qua non for a good judicial system is trust. Chinese people trust their legal system because it applies the law uniformly to rich and poor, powerful and powerless, alike.
If people do not trust their judicial system it has failed, and China’s judicial system is the most trusted on earth.
How do China and America compare? How much do citizens trust their respective legal systems?
When he launched his anti-corruption drive in 2012, President Xi promised1 to govern by virtuous example, yide zhiguo, and to create a socialist spiritual civilization, jingshen wenming. Four years later, reminded2 a judicial study group that law and ethics are inextricably bound:
Law is virtue expressed in words and virtue is law borne in people’s hearts. In the eyes of the State, law and virtue have equal status in regulating social behavior, adjusting social relations and maintaining social order. Rule of law must embody moral ideals that provide reliable institutional support for virtue. Laws and regulations should promote virtuous behavior while socialist core values–prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, the rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity and friendliness–should be woven into legislation, law enforcement, and the judicial process.
Penal law and judicial processes still play minor roles in Chinese everyday life and the legal process remains a work in process. Members of the National Family3 still address older strangers as ‘aunty,’ ‘uncle,’ ‘grandfather,’ or ‘grandmother,’ and every adult assumes responsibility for every child. Would-be criminals struggle against family, friends, workmates, classmates, and neighbors who counsel, mediate and compromise4 with them to keep them on the path of virtue. They encourage self-criticism and use persuasion, education, and individually tailored solutions, which families can enforce far more effectively than police. So effective is mediation that Congress now requires all villages to maintain People’s Mediation Committees5, courthouses to maintain mediation offices, and lawyers to become certified mediators. In 2019, seven-million mediators handled six million disputes and reduced the national legal bill to one-tenth of America’s6.
Which country has the best judicial system?
As in France, magistrates are regarded as neutral truth seekers who interrogate suspects, examine evidence, hear testimony, render verdicts and determine guilt and innocence pre-trial. Though a Trial Spot in wealthy Shanghai provides defense lawyers for all criminal defendants, elsewhere defense lawyers are mandatory only for juveniles, the disabled, and those facing life imprisonment or death. If there is insufficient evidence for a conviction, the magistrate will suggest that the procurate either reduce the charges or investigate further. Since most casework involves paper depositions, the Western custom of cross-examining witnesses under oath before a judge is uncommon but, while American defendants lose their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination if they testify, Chinese defendants may say what they wish in their defense or refuse to be cross examined, without prejudice. If the investigating magistrate decides that the defendant is guilty the case go to trial, which is really a sentencing hearing, but even if a defendant confesses and wishes to end the matter, the magistrate must hold an open trial and ask the defendant to confirm his confession publicly.
Though lawyers’ reputation in Chinese society has always been poor, the profession was boosted in 2012 when Li Keqiang7, an expert on English common law, became Premier and, overnight, the Supreme Court’s internship program began attracting top students. Then President Xi suggested establishing independent judicial committees, including non-Party members, to select judges based on merit and professional track record and, by 2019, every province had an independent judicial committee to minimize local government interference, select and oversee the work of judges and prosecutors, and punish professional misconduct. Shanghai’s committee expelled a High Court prosecutor, two sub-prosecutors, the Vice President of the Provincial Supreme Court and a senior circuit court judge. Police, prosecutors and court officials are responsible for wrongful prosecutions until the day they die, and national appeals courts re-hear cases, overturn wrongful convictions, order restitution, and require lower courts to study their reversals.
The Supreme People’s Court’s website, with five billion visits, offers online courses on every element of the law, invites criticism of new laws, and provides an artificial intelligence interface to its six hundred thousand recorded trials. Its website invites citizens to email the Chief Justice, whose answers begin cheerily, “Hello! We received your question, and after consideration, we respond as follows…” and end with, “Thank you for your support of the work of the Supreme People’s Court!” Ultimately–since their ethical duty transcends their legal responsibility–the courts answer to the Party which, as arbiter of national ethics, prevents unethical and anti-democratic decisions8. As former Chief Justice Xiao Yang explained, “The power of the courts to adjudicate independently doesn’t mean independence from the Party at all. On the contrary, it embodies a high degree of responsibility vis-à-vis the Party’s [dàtóng9] program.”
Though unarmed, police have powers their Western colleagues only dream of. Instead of removing miscreants from society they can issue temporary restraining orders and mandate home confinement, which gives them the opportunity to discuss solutions with their families. Convicted criminals–who can prosecute prison staff for breaching their rights–must receive humane levels of material comfort and dignity from arrest to release. Sentences are typically short, but prisoners must participate in career, legal, cultural, and moral counseling that focuses on the social consequences of their crimes. Even murderers are expected to repent, reform, and rejoin society.
Citizens can video police, who must publish the status of all arrestees online. TV programs regularly explain new laws and schools, offices, factories, mines and army units discuss concepts like the exclusion of illegally obtained evidence. After the success of a weekly TV show, I am a Barrister, the Legal Channel followed up with The Lawyers Are Here. Each episode introduces legal issues ranging from child custody to healthcare negligence and expert panels offer opinions and advise real litigants on air.
Online Trial Spots are reducing legal costs, promoting equitable outcomes and lightening the burden of enforcement. One app bundles free mediation, dispute settlement and legal aid and connects plaintiffs to thousands of lawyers, notaries and judicial appraisers. Another verifies plaintiffs’ and defendants’ IDs and combines face and speech recognition with electronic signatures, allowing them go to trial without leaving home. Using voice-to-text, it submits their files, transcribes their testimonies, and stores their case records in case of appeal. Beijing’s Internet Court provides artificial intelligence-based risk assessment as a public service and automatically generates legal documents, applies machine translation, and simplifies settlements through oral interaction with its knowledge base. In 2017 Hangzhou, home of Alibaba, launched the first cyber court exclusively for online e-commerce complaints, loan litigation, and copyright infringement. In its inaugural case, TikTok sued Baidu for ownership of user-generated video content.
With unarmed police, two percent of America’s legal professionals and one-fourth its per capita policing budget, China has the world’s lowest rates of imprisonment and re-offense. Crime remains low, trust is rising, and Beijingers no longer remove batteries from parked electric scooters. When Harvard’s Tony Saich10 surveyed them about their greatest worry, most Chinese ranked ‘Maintenance of Social Order’ highest and when he asked which government service pleased them most they chose ‘Maintenance of Social Order.’
1 Report, 18th Party Congress, November 8, 2012. Xi was quoting from Confucius’ Analects.
2 Xi stresses integrating law, virtue in state governance. Xinhua. 2016-12-10
3 The Chinese term for nation-state is ‘nation-family’ and most Chinese would take for granted that the nation-state is an extended family.
4 Failure to do so can bring consequences. In 2018, when Liu Zehnhua committed suicide after raping and murdering Li Mingzhu, the court ordered Liu’s family to pay the Li family one hundred thousand dollars for failing to socialize their son.
5 In addition to People’s Mediation conducted by grassroots community mediators, China employs Judicial Mediation conducted by judges, Administrative Mediation conducted by government officials, Arbitral Mediation conducted by arbitral administrative bodies, and Industry Mediation conducted by specific industrial associations.
6 Average Person Spends $250 Per Year on Legal Services. Jay Reeves | April 14, 2015. Lawyers Mutual
7 At Peking University Law School in 1978, Li translated Lord Denning’s “The Due Process of Law,” becoming so proficient in the language that he broke protocol and spoke in fluent English at a Hong Kong University event in 2011.
8 In 2010 the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend unlimited money on elections because limiting corporations’ “independent political spending” violates their First Amendment right to free speech.
9 A dàtóng society is the Chinese Dream, which Confucian scholar Kang Youwei rendered thus: “Now to have states, families, and selves is to allow each individual to maintain a sphere of selfishness. This infracts utterly the Universal Principle (gongli) and impedes progress…The only [true way] is sharing the world in common by all (tienxia weigong) This is the way of the Great Community, dàtóng, which prevailed in the Age of Universal Peace. Commentary on Liyun.
10 How China’s citizens view the quality of governance under Xi Jinping. Tony Saich. Journal of Chinese Governance. Vol 1, 2016