Reviews of rules help safeguard authority of Constitution

Updated: Oct 18, 2021 China Daily Print
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In recent years, China has intensified the review of normative documents, including administrative regulations and judicial interpretations, to ensure they do not contradict the Constitution.

The effort has played a major role in effectively implementing Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law in further upholding the authority of the Constitution, the fundamental law.

At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017, President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, called for stronger oversight to ensure compliance with the Constitution, requiring intensified reviews of it to safeguard its authority.

In a central conference on work related to overall law-based governance last November, Xi stressed that in order to promote the modernization of China's governance system and capacity along the path of the rule of law, it is necessary to require every entity, including government agencies, Party organs, social organizations and enterprises, to shoulder the responsibility of maintaining the dignity of the Constitution and ensuring its implementation.

Under the central leadership's requirement, the country has accelerated efforts to strengthen reviews to determine whether normative documents conflict with the Constitution.

In December 2019, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, adopted a guideline that specified what normative documents need to be reviewed and that those items that are inconsistent with the Constitution should be corrected or removed.

The committee's Legislative Affairs Commission has been required to include the reviews in their annual regulation filings and work report to the NPC Standing Committee, which means that the reviews have been further regulated and that the work the commission is doing to implement the fundamental law has also been made public.

The commission has made this report every year since 2017, but items that contradicted the Constitution were not clearly listed in the report before 2020.

"The 2020 report to the NPC Standing Committee made a breakthrough in terms of reviews concerning the Constitution," said Liang Ying, an official of the Legislative Affairs Commission. "Previously, our work related to the Constitution was rarely shown to the public in such a straightforward manner.

"The breakthrough will help the nation adhere to Constitution-based governance, as required by President Xi, and it will also contribute to implementing the Constitution, upholding its authority and deeply advancing the rule of law nationwide," he said.

A report submitted to the NPC Standing Committee in January highlighted scrutiny involving the Constitution and discussed three cases in which people questioned laws, regulations or documents that they believe conflicted with the Constitution.

One of the cases involved Fang Shimin, a resident of Xuancheng, Anhui province. He wrote a seven-page letter to the commission in February 2018, complaining that a judicial interpretation appeared to conflict with the Constitution.

According to Fang, the compensation standard for personal damages to rural residents in incidents such as traffic accidents or plane crashes in the interpretation-which was issued by the Supreme People's Court, the nation's top court-differed from that for urban residents.

To Fang, the difference meant the life of a rural resident was not equal to the lives of urban residents. "It's unfair, and it's inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution and the principle of the General Provisions of Civil Code," he said and suggested the commission review the interpretation.

After reading the letter, Liang's office solicited opinions from the top court and the commission's civil division. Then it asked the court to correct or improve the interpretation at an appropriate time and share the process of the case's handling with Fang. In response, the court asked local courts to work on unifying the standard in September 2019. Although that work continues, the top court said it will improve the interpretation as quickly as possible.

"Ensuring that normative documents are consistent with the Constitution has always been a key criterion in our work, although it was not clearly mentioned in our work reports before," Liang said, adding that efforts to cast more light on the process can be attributed to the closer attention paid by the central leadership and also the increasing awareness of the public.

According to Legislative Affairs Commission statistics, the NPC Standing Committee received 5,146 review suggestions from individuals and organizations last year. From these, the public put forward more than 100 suggestions on whether related documents were consistent with the Constitution.

"It was a large number, which we hadn't seen before," Liang said.

More efforts urged

Qin Qianhong, deputy head of the Association of Constitutional Law with the China Law Society, has been following the review of normative documents made by the NPC Standing Committee in recent years. He said the top legislature has greatly contributed to the nation's adherence to Constitution-based governance.

"It brought the fundamental law closer to the people and has made it more influential in every aspect of their lives," said Qin, who is also a professor at Wuhan University in Hubei province who specializes in the Constitution.

He welcomed the report on the review, regarding it as a way to publicly uphold the dignity of the Constitution and help more people understand the law.

The NPC established the Constitution and Law Committee in March 2018. Later that year, the committee set up an office devoted to the study of the Constitution.

"Since then, our country has had a specialized department to focus on the Constitution and respond to relevant issues of the law," Qin said. "Its establishment showed significant progress in the adherence to Constitution-based governance nationwide."

While strengthening the review of normative documents to ensure they do not contradict the Constitution, the committee has also intensified similar scrutiny over the drafting or amending of laws as well as in the issuance of legal decisions.

A draft decision on the opening date of the NPC's full session in 2020 was submitted for deliberation to the NPC Standing Committee in February last year. It explained that the annual meeting was postponed to ensure epidemic control and prevention and clarified that the decision was made in line with the Constitution.

"That is to say, adherence to Constitution-based governance and respect for the rule of law were carried out throughout the top legislature's work," Qin said.

Furthermore, government officials have been ordered to take an oath to the Constitution before they are sworn in, and China has also named Dec 4 as its annual Constitution Day.

In 2019, the central leadership called for effective implementation and supervision of the Constitution at the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, saying that the procedure of interpreting the Constitution should be implemented and the reviews on whether normative documents are consistent with the fundamental law also need to be promoted.

Research on issues

While document reviews have been strengthened over the past few years, "we have also been conducting more research on issues related to the Constitution", Liang said. "Problems involving the Constitution in drafting documents or making decisions should be notified to NPC Standing Committee in a timely manner, and the top legislature should interpret the law or relevant content in the law if necessary."

According to Liang, the commission has always attached importance to academic studies related to the Constitution. It helped Beihang University establish a research center for improving the system of normative document reviews and supported Zhejiang University in launching specialized courses on the subject.

"Next, we'll further increase theoretical research on reviews involving the Constitution. We'll urge more experts to focus on the issues, and we'll build a review-related database to strengthen the combination of the theory and practice," he said.

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