Top court specifies duties, workflows of people's assessors

Updated: Apr 26, 2019 Print
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The top court on Apr 25 released a legal document to specify the duties and workflows of people's assessors - members of the public who assist judges and evaluate evidence in trials - and asked courts to offer more information and training for such assessors so that they could better perform their roles.

A people's assessor can attend the hearing of 30 cases at most a year to prevent courts from designating fixed people in trials, which has been a practice by certain courts in the past. Assessors should receive at least 40 hours of training on laws and other legal knowledge before attending trials, according to the judicial interpretation issued by the Supreme People's Court, the country's highest justice authority.

In addition, courts are required to evaluate the performance of people's assessors every year, according to the interpretation.

People's assessors have been part of China's justice system since the 1930s, albeit with limited powers, and mostly as part of three-person benches to hear civil disputes or cases of low-level crime.

Their role, however, was expanded when the People's Assessor Law took effective on April 27, 2018. The law gave assessors more power and regulated clearly what they should do.

For example, it allowed assessors to be part of seven-person benches and take part in a wider range of cases, namely public-interest lawsuits, which usually focus on polluting companies, disputes over home demolitions, threats to food or drug safety and criminal trials in which defendants face at least 10 years in prison or even the death penalty.

Although the range of case hearings has widened, the law stipulates a people's assessor as a part of the seven-person bench could only be permitted to verify and comment on facts of a case. They are allowed to offer opinions on verdicts and sentencing, but are not involved in the final ruling.

Jiang Qibo, head of the top court's research office, said the judicial interpretation, issued on Thursday and which takes effect next month, further specifies what people's assessors and judges do when a case is heard by a seven-person bench.

"The interpretation orders judges to list major questions on facts of a case before a trial in order to help people's assessors, most of whom do not have legal background, better understand the dispute and follow the hearing more easily," Jiang said at a news conference. "The move is to improve the judicial efficiency and uphold the justice."

"The list will be updated during a panel discussion, as some questions may be solved during hearings," he added.

Given that the five-year term of some current assessors is ready to expire and they will not be able to serve for consecutive terms under the law, the Ministry of Justice, the top court and the Ministry of Public Security jointly launched a random selection after the People's Assessor Law took effect last year.

Now, the country has a total of 300,000 people's assessors, of whom 120,000 were newly selected.

Most people's assessors are drawn from ordinary citizens randomly, while some are recommended by their employers, communities or social associations. They are not compelled to attend a particular hearing, but those unable to be present should explain the reasons for their absence to the court in accordance with the law.

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