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9/11/2011 11:40:38 PM EST
Criminal justice in China: an empirical inquiry
Author 作者: Mike McConville 麥高偉 Publisher 出版 : Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
Posted by LexisNexis

Criminal justice in China is a term which evokes grainy images but few details. While scholars and those in the legal field may know about the statutory framework in which the criminal justice system is set, little is known about the law in practice. Where knowledge is available, it is usually in reference to individual cases involving highprofile persons such as the recently detained artist, Ai Weiwei. While we may be able to glean some information about the criminal justice process from such cases, we have no way of knowing how representative they are. The current body of knowledge simply does not include sufficient information on everyday cases.

Professor Mike McConville’s recently published Criminal Justice in China: An Empirical Inquiry aspires to change that. The book is the result of a 15-year research project, undertaken by McConville and a number of his colleagues, to collect ‘systematic and comprehensive statistics’ on criminal cases in China. The statistics are derived from five main sources: criminal case files, courtroom observations and interviews with judges, prosecutors and lawyers. Having had access to 1144 case files, the case file analysis provides the largest source of information. Further, courtroom observations were undertaken in 227 cases. The team also conducted 267 interviews. In total, all data were sourced from 13  geographic locations – which the author deems to be a ‘fair cross-section’ of the country. The study focuses on first instance cases in the Basic Court and in the Intermediate Court. For apparent reasons, the study does not disclose names or locations. Instead, data items are assigned codes denoting specific details, such as the location of a court or person interviewed.

Criminal Justice in China comprises 15 chapters, taking the reader from the  very beginning of the criminal justice process, namely the manner in which crimes come to the attention of authorities, through the collection of evidence, the trial stage and to the conclusion of a criminal trial. The various empirical data and the relevant laws are neatly absorbed into the narrative of each chapter, making this book more accessible than one might expect of a 560-page monograph. In the same vein, the book also dispenses with the use of expansive footnotes, impenetrable phrasing and intricate paragraphing which
often render academic texts unattractive to everyday readers. The appendices feature information on the research methodology, including the schedules and questionnaires used to collect data from the previously mentioned sources.

The book’s introduction sets out the context in which the rest of the discourse takes place. Briefly put, the end of the Cultural Revolution, during which China had no formal legal institutions, marked the beginning of a long reform process. The year 1979 saw the introduction of a criminal law and a criminal procedures law. On the face of it, these laws marked a break from the past. Criminal cases
would become subject to a formal legal structure with institutions and processes. While the 1979 reforms signalled a new period, many of the old practices – most notably perhaps the ‘verdict first, trial later’ approach – remained the same, according to McConville. However, the introduction of a successor law and the 1996 Criminal Procedure Law saw the emergence of genuine expectations of a new era for criminal justice in China. With more protections for defendants, such as the right to be represented by a lawyer, the 1996 law was widely thought to have put China on the path to a more adversarial system of trials. McConville cleverly uses a series of quotes from academics to underline this point, thereby setting a benchmark to juxtapose with his own empirical data and analysis. Thus, it is in light of the 1996 reforms
that this study is conducted. Have the changes in the law yielded the forecast changes in practice? In essence, that is the question which this book seeks to answer, not only in respect of an overall assessment, but in respect of every stage of the criminal justice process.

Criminal Justice in China begins in earnest by looking at the manner in which authorities learn about crimes and concludes that the situation is the same in China as in most countries: victims and members of the public report crimes to the police. The book continues by examining what happens after a crime is reported and, indeed, this is where the similarities end. McConville takes the reader through the entire criminal justice process, beginning with the role of the Public Security Bureau (or police) in deciding whether an act is actually a crime. Oddly, where police decide that an act is not a crime, this does not mean that the suspect is exonerated. Instead, police can pursue the matter by availing themselves of administrative powers, such as the power to detain or ‘re-educate’, which are not reviewable by other institutions, such as the courts. Evidently, this feature of the system has significant repercussions for McConville’s study, which focuses on those acts which are deemed to be crimes. Where crimes are thought to have been committed, police have wide-ranging evidence gathering powers at their disposal, including powers to search, seize and detain.It is the latter which, according to McConville, is the most significant. His case file analysis suggests that the greatest part of the police
investigation is spent extracting confessions from detained suspects. Although the law states that confessions may not be extracted by way of torture, threats or deception, the empirical evidence, chiefly the fact that confessions are extracted from more than 95% of suspects, suggests that the law does not fit the practice. Comparable figures for the United Kingdom suggest confession rates of between 54% and 75%. Cases are then handed over to the prosecution – most of them as a result of confessions. Indeed, McConville only came across one case which was not recommended for prosecution.

The book continues by examining the pre-trial roles of the prosecution and judges. The same methodology of juxtaposing the 1996 law with observed reality is applied. Again, the conclusions drawn are that there is a wide gulf between the law’s appearance and reality. While the law was meant to have restricted the role of the judiciary, the evidence suggests that judges continue to be deeply involved, for instance, by conducting substantive pre-trial evaluation of the evidence. Prosecution and judges seem to regard themselves as a tandem, whose task it is to advance the case. Meanwhile, McConville uses data gathered from interviews with lawyers to conclude that the defence’s pre-trial role is largely non-existent. It should be mentioned at this stage, as interviews always pose reliability concerns when conducting scholarly studies, that McConville skilfully incorporates the results of other studies, as well as the 1996 law itself (for instance, in that it restricts defence lawyers’ activities through threat of libel action) to corroborate the bleak picture painted by the lawyer interviewees.

Moving to the trial stage, the book approaches it from two different perspectives. First, by examining the case files and second, by analysing the extensive data gathered during courtroom observations. The case file analysis is supplemented by a broad range of tables, detailing a variety of facts, ranging from whether defendants were represented to the outcome of trials. Perhaps most notably, only one in 10 defendants attempted to contest any of the charges brought against them. Thus, it comes as little surprise that only two of the 1144 cases analysed resulted in ‘not guilty’ verdicts. While McConville focuses on the criminal justice process rather than the merit of individual cases, this section does provide a brief discussion of some substantive criminal law, in particular its ambiguousness, underscoring how both the criminal procedure law and criminal law combine to obstruct the accused from effectively arguing their cases. As is evidenced throughout the book, McConville again uses sources other than his data alone to corroborate his analysis. Next, the courtroom observations are grouped into three categories: prosecution, defence and outcomes, and make up the largest part of the book. One of the most absorbing features of the book are excerpts from trials, as transcribed by McConville’s team. Where, up to this point, the book is informative but heavy on numerical data, this part is far more graphic in that it confers a vivid picture of the situation
defendants actually face in the courtroom. One illustrative and memorable dialogue involves a defendant and his defence lawyer, who, after the defendant does not immediately confess, exclaims: “If you don’t confess frankly, I cannot defend you.” As this example shows, the courtroom dialogues make for both illustrative and chilling reading. None of the 227 cases observed by McConville’s team resulted in a ‘not guilty’ verdict. Once again, the conclusion is that legal reforms have not – assuming that was the intention – achieved a more adversarial system of trials. Overall, McConville deduces: “Changing the law has not in any significant way changed the behaviour of courtroom actors.” The result, both in terms of verdict and sentence, is almost invariably predetermined prior to a trial’s commencement.

Given the inherent constraints of the book review format, it is impossible to discuss all the topics explored in Criminal Justice in China. While this brief cross-section is meant to provide no more than a synopsis, it is worth mentioning that aside from the largely empirical work detailed above, McConville also considers the socio-political context in which the system operates. In other words, having explained how the criminal justice process works in practice, McConville reflects on the more philosophical question of why it works that way. One issue that stands out in this regard is the role that Political Legal
Committees play in supervising the police, prosecution and judges. The inference drawn is that even if courtroom actors were inclined to adopt a more adversarial model of trials, the threat of getting on the wrong side of such committees would probably cut short any such leanings. McConville also identifies Chinese culture as playing an important role in perpetuating the current system, for instance, in the form of strong public support for anti-crime initiatives such as ‘strikehard’ campaigns, or in the form of traditional customs such as guanxi (relationships) which can clash with a conventional understanding of the rule of law. In the end, the Chinese criminal justice system is said to serve one main purpose, which is to maintain social order. With
this in mind, genuine changes in the criminal justice process can only occur in concert with broader socio-political changes.

Criminal Justice in China fills a considerable gap in the body of scholarly work in that it both describes and explains the law in practice. Inevitably, there will be doubts about the reliability of some of the data used. No doubt, gleaning data from interviews and courtroom observations is an imprecise science. The demand for anonymity, which, if nothing else, renders data unverifiable and creates a particular challenge. To his credit, McConville makes no secret of this and, accordingly, reinforces his work with other materials. Perhaps, however, the author’s biggest achievement is that he manages to present his work in a way that is accessible to non-academics and non-lawyers. Indeed, the book is distinctly non-highbrow, not only in that it comprehensively disproves the rosy predictions of ivory tower academics regarding the state of China’s criminal justice system but also in that it shames parts of the academic community for mistakenly believing that China’s criminal procedure law can be understood by studying the relevant legislation. 


Hans Mahncke

Author 作者: Mike McConville 麥高偉
Publisher 出版 : Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd




這部著作的序言列出其他篇章的背景內容。簡單來說,中國在文革期間並沒有正式的法律制度,因此文革結束標誌著一個漫長的改革進程的開始。1979 年,中國制定了刑法和刑事訴訟法,而這些法律表面上都除舊立新。刑事案件會受正式的法律架構約束,設有相關的機構和程序。正如麥高偉教授所言,雖然 1979年的改革標誌著一個新時代的開始,但許多舊有做法仍然沿用,也許「先判決,後審訊」的做法,是最明顯不過的了。然而,繼承法和1996年《刑事訴訟法》的引入,我們對中國刑事司法制度進入新時代抱有一種真正的期望。隨著法律賦予被告的保護越多,例如享有由律師代表的權利,一般認為1996年的法律將中國司法制度推向一個更具對抗性的審判制度的道路上。麥高偉教授巧妙地引用了學者的話強調這一點,並與其本身收集得來的實證性資料和分析並列,從而建立一個基



到了審訊階段,這部作品以兩個不同觀點為切入點。首先是通過查閱案卷,然後分析從法庭旁聽所收集的大量資料。案卷分析輔以大量的圖表,詳細介紹各種案情,從被告是否獲律師代表出庭應訊到得出審判結果。也許最值得注意的是,在十名被告中,只有一人會就針對他們的指控提出抗辯。因此,在1144件已分析的案件中,只有兩宗作出「無罪」判決,絕不為奇。雖然麥高偉教授所側重的是刑事司法程序,而非個別案件的是非曲直,但本章節也對一些實體刑法作出了簡短的討論,特別是其含糊之處,並強調了刑事訴訟法與刑法如何相結合,以阻礙被告有效地為其案件作出爭辯。正如書中所見,麥高偉教授再次使用其他資料佐證其分析。其次,法庭聽審共分為三類:起訴、辯護和結果,為全書的主要篇幅。本章節最大亮點是由麥高偉教授領導的小組所轉錄的審訊摘錄。在此之前的章節,內容都是資料性的,當中包含大量數據,但這一章節卻非常形象化,因為本章節為被告在庭上所面對的實際情況作出了生動描繪。被告及其辯護律師之間有一句令人難忘的對話剛好說明此點。當被告不肯立即認罪,其辯護律師感嘆地說:「如果你不坦白招認,我不能替你辯護。」這個例子說明,法庭的對話是可作解釋性解讀,內容使人不寒而慄。麥高偉教授領導的研究小組觀察了227宗案件,當中沒有一宗最後獲判「無罪」。這個結論再次證明,中國所進行的法律改革,並沒有帶來一個更具對抗性的審訊制度 (假設這是改革的原意)。總體而言,麥高偉教授推斷:「法律的改變並沒有為法院的行事者在行為方面帶來任何重大改變。」因此,無論在裁決和判刑方面,審判結果幾乎都在審訊開始前已事先設定好了。

基於書評的篇幅有限,筆者不可能對《中國刑事司法制度》所探討的全部議題逐一討論。儘管這簡短的橫截面只提供了一個大綱,但值得一提的是,除上述提及的實證性內容,麥高偉教授還研究了該制度所處的社會政治環境。換句話說,麥高偉教授解釋刑事司法程序在實際中如何運作外,還談到一個更為哲學性的問題,就是這個制度為何這樣運作。在這方面帶出一個突出問題,就是政法委員會在監督警方、檢察官和法官方面所發揮的作用,而得出的推論是,即使法院的行事者傾向在審訊中採取一個更為對抗性的模式,但與該委員會立場不一致所生的顧慮,會阻礙他們向對抗性的模式有任何傾斜。麥高偉教授還確認了中國文化在維持現行制度方面所發揮的重要作用,譬如在打擊犯罪活動方面有強大的公眾支持 (如「嚴打」運動),或者與人們對法治的一般理解相悖的傳統習俗 (如關係)。到頭來,中國的刑事司法制度只是服膺於一個重要目的,就是維護社會秩序。考慮到這一點,我們便明白到,刑事司法程序的真正變革,只能與更廣泛的社會、政治變革一併進行才見成效。



Hans Mahncke




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