The IBJ China defender program has been one of the most successful and long-running programs the organization has undertaken. Since the beginning of our partnership with the National Legal Aid of China (NLAC) in 2001, IBJ has made a significant impact on the conditions of public defense in China and has contributed to a nationwide transformation of the criminal justice system.
A great deal of progress has been made in training a corps of public defenders who can be called upon to provide competent legal counsel to those who are accused of crimes, bolstering the nation’s ability to guarantee fair trials and protection of basic legal rights.
There have also been noticeable improvements in the operational effectiveness of the criminal justice system as well. The crucial role of public defenders and legal aid services is progressively being accepted by judges, government prosecutors and the police.
After eight years of success in China, we are now expanding our regional presence in order to provide consistent resources to the rural and underserved areas, where attorneys are even scarcer and lengthy detention remains common.
IBJ legal training seminar
Advisement of rights campaign
China Country Background
China has become the world’s fastest growing major economy, the world’s largest exporter and second largest importer of goods. It is the world’s second largest economy by both nominal GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP) and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. It is also a member of formal/informal multilateral organizations including the WTO, APEC, BRIC, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and G-20.
During the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, the court and prosecution systems, law offices and lawyers were eliminated. It wasn’t until 1979 did China begin to rebuild the justice system, reopen law schools and slowly readmit lawyers. Despite this progress, China’s bar now counts only 140,000 lawyers for its more than 1.3 billion citizens and the vast majority of those lawyers are concentrated in the major cities.
While economic reforms have brought tremendous wealth to China’s city and coastal regions, the vast majority of the country is still mired in extreme poverty. The most vulnerable are the 300 to 400 million living in the country’s vast rural areas that can fall victim to the limitations of the criminal justice system.
Lawyers have often regarded the practice of criminal defense as a high-risk profession, as they often face mounting obstacles in obtaining discovery, conducting investigation and bringing witnesses to testify in court. Access to client is usually restricted or delayed; it is common for defense lawyers to first meet their client in the courtroom at trial.
Pitted against these obstacles, many attorneys have felt that their role in the criminal process is inferior to that of prosecutors and that there is little work for them to do on behalf of their clients. It is therefore not surprising that many attorneys have been unwilling to handle criminal cases and that an exceptionally high percentage of criminal defendants go unrepresented by counsel at trial.
Despite these problems, there are tremendous changes afoot in the Chinese criminal justice system. China began the monumental task of erecting a nationwide system of legal aid. China has also amended its Constitution and enacted its first Criminal Procedure Law, which guarantee basic legal rights to all persons accused of crimes. According to a decree of the State Council, legal aid is now a responsibility for all levels of government. These reforms provide a clear framework for the rights of Chinese citizens and empower the courts to enforce these rights.
It is testament to China’s efforts and political commitment that there are now over 3,200 legal aid centers across the country. However, the government has not yet been able to ensure these centers’ capacity to effectively handle legal aid cases. Many of these legal aid centers are without the most basic resources necessary to carry out an effective defense. Throughout the country, criminal defenders have to handle the most serious cases without sufficient training, legal resources or support.
Seizing the opportunity offered by recent changes, IBJ has been working in partnership with these government centers to support an emerging class of attorneys to contribute towards the development of China’s criminal justice system.
Another Advisement of Rights campaign
Another IBJ legal training seminar
IBJ Programming in China
Defender Resource Centers
• The Anhui DRC (2004-2007, in Hefei city) had been successful in significantly altering the environment for Anhui province’s criminal defenders.
• The Beijing DRC (or National Defender Resource Center) was established in 2005 primarily for engaging in program and policy discussions with national program partners and government officials, but it also coordinates local and national training initiatives in Beijing that influence communities throughout the country.
• The Northwest DRC (established in 2007, in Xi’an city) has developed strong cooperative relationship with local procuratorates, bar association, legal aid centers, lawyers and law schools. It has held many trainings, roundtables and workshops. In 2009, the first juvenile community rehab center in Xi’an was set up as a joint project by the Yanta Procuratorate, the Northwest University of Political Science and Law and IBJ.
• The Southeast Defender Resource Center, established in 2009, is IBJ’s link to China’s Southern provinces. Since its foundation, the SEDRC has been able to organize trainings and roundtables in more than 20 sites under its jurisdiction, thanks to a pivotal Memorandum of Understanding signed with Wuhan University Law School.
Advisement of Rights Campaigns
• Since 2003, IBJ, in cooperation with legal aid centers, universities and the Chinese government, has developed and distributed nearly a million posters and brochures articulating the legal rights of accused persons, criminal detainees and defense lawyers. Rights campaigns have reached all of the 31 regions in mainland China.
• In December 2006, IBJ collaborated with the All-China Lawyers Association and Peking University School of Law to develop a rights awareness brochure for juvenile suspects entitled, “A Handbook for Juveniles: What You Should Know if You Are Accused of a Crime.” Nearly 4,000 copies have been distributed in ten provinces/municipalities.
• In December 2008, IBJ held rights awareness campaign in 11 cities across China, organized two roundtables with various local stakeholders of the juvenile justice system, and distributed nearly 10,000 posters and brochures.
Roundtable Workshops and Training Programs
• Since IBJ started its program in China, it has trained over 2,000 public defense lawyers in legal training seminars, workshops and mentoring sessions.
• Throughout 2008, IBJ and its different DRCs have hosted with its partners (Northwest University of Political Science and Law, the Shaanxi Provincial Legal Aid Center, Sichuan University, etc.) a series of roundtable discussions that bring together police, defenders, prosecutors and judges to promote discussion and cooperation and have focused on the rights of accused persons as well as the juvenile justice system.
Young Chinese street children at a welfare shelter read IBJ Rights brochure, Shenzhen, December 2006
Read more about the development of IBJ’s trainings and programming in China 2001-2009 here.