The GBCC Legal Cooperation Programme

The Great Britain-China Centre began its new Legal Cooperation programme with the launch of a joint venture Common Law Centre in Beijing at the Law Faculty of Renmin University in partnership with Oxford University on 2nd September to provide a platform for the UK legal community to engage with Chinese legal experts and policy-makers on legal reform.

CCL Launch 2014 (1)

Delegates outside the new Common Law Centre at Renmin University of China

Meanwhile GBCC reached agreement with the Supreme Courts of both countries that the inaugural UK-China Judicial Roundtable would take place in December 2014 in Beijing, with a UK delegation led by Lord Justice Toulson. The agreed topics for the first annual roundtable will be judicial selection, training and management and the professionalisation of the judiciary, following the UK’s recent reforms in this area and the priorities laid out in the 5-year judicial reform plan of the Supreme People’s Court.

CCL Launch 2014 (2)

Former Supreme People's Court President Xiao Yang

Former SPC President Xiao Yang said in a speech at the launch of the Common Law Centre that its opening was timely and important, as it would help China to refine and further develop its legal system. He said he was pleased to take on the role of chairman of the Centre’s Advisory Council. He hoped that it would become a platform for exchanges between Chinese legal researchers and practitioners and those of Common Law countries such as the UK.

Wang Liming, Vice-President of Renmin University and a former Dean of its Law Faculty, said the Centre would provide much useful material and would be a bridge for dialogue, consultation and cooperation between China and Common Law jurisdictions. “After big efforts over several decades, China's legal system is already basically in place, but China still has quite a long way to go to become a country under the rule of law in the complete sense,” he told the launch conference.

CCL Launch 2014 (3)

Professor Wang Liming said "the Common Law Centre would enable China and the UK to better understand each other's legal systems"

“It is worthwhile for us to continue to research and borrow from the experience of Common Law countries such as the UK, the USA and Canada,” he said. “In a way, the process of globalisation is also the process of building a global legal system. This process is unprecedented in the history of mankind, and is an irresistible trend,” Professor Wang said. But the first step towards this was for countries to better understand each other’s legal systems.

CCL Launch 2014 (4)

Dean Han Dayuan said the new Centre would encourage the sharing of legal wisdom

The Centre, established by an MOU signed at the launch by Dean Han Dayuan of Renmin University Law School, Executive Director Richard Pascoe of GBCC and Nick Barber of Oxford on behalf of the Dean of Oxford’s Law Faculty, Professor Timothy Endicott, will promote the principles of Common Law in China by supporting research and study and exchanges between practitioners. It will be jointly managed by Renmin University staff working under Professor Han and by GBCC, which has worked closely with Chinese legal experts on judicial training and criminal justice and other legal reforms for the past 20 years.

Professor Michael Tilbury of Hong Kong University, outlining the evolution of Common Law, said that as it was based on case law, or judicial decisions setting legal precedents, it was particularly helpful in the resolution of disputes as the process of decision-making was transparent. He said this was one element that Chinese judges admired most. He said Common Law now faced many challenges in how it would operate in a globalised world – and for example the effect of what he called the Europeanisation of Common Law in England in the light of the UK’s membership of the EU, where most countries were Civil Law jurisdictions.

“In the European context, it seems inevitable that the Common Law and the Civil Law will influence each other,” he said. “Europe has moved on from legal transplantation to mutual legal influence and harmonization.” Professor Tilbury said a similar question in China was “the extent to which the Common Law of Hong Kong will survive the overwhelming presence of the greater Chinese legal system.” The other side of the question was, he said, what the Chinese legal system could usefully learn from Common Law.

He hoped that the Common Law Centre in Beijing would help stimulate strong academic and professional discussion on such issues.

Nick Barber, Associate Professor at Oxford, explained key differences between civil law an common law and why it was important for practitioners of civil law to understand the key advantages of common law methods. A lively debate followed on the merits of case law in common law jurisdictions and how this differed from the practice of reference cases or guiding cases recently issued by China’s SPC.

Ewan Smith, First Secretary at the British Embassy in Beijing, Robert Seabrook QC, Professor Richard Vogler from Sussex University Law School, and First Secretary Jose Sia from the Canadian Embassy attended the launch together with representatives of various law firms.

Planned future activities at the Common Law Centre include a workshop on the legal and regulatory environment of the Shanghai pilot Free Trade Zone to be held during the forthcoming visit to China by Lord Faulks, UK Minister of State for Justice, and a further conference on the professionalization of the judiciary during the visit of Lord Justice Toulson. The Centre would also work on the issue of the opening up of the legal services market in China under WTO rules.

Other UK judicial representatives are being recruited by the UK Supreme Court and by GBCC to attend the 1st Judicial Roundtable, which both sides hope will become an annual event to promote cooperation, leveraging support from alumni of GBCC’s previous judges training programmes in the UK.

Consultation is under way in the UK to identify distinguished candidates from the UK from judicial, government and academic backgrounds to appoint to the Common Law Centre’s joint Academic Advisory Council. Financial support is being sought from law firms and others for the Centre’s activities.

The Law Society of the UK and the China Britain Law Institute (CBLI) – an association of young lawyers based in London, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong – have offered their support to the Centre, and discussions are taking place with other elite universities in China and the UK to join.

The Centre is keen to develop links with other Common Law jurisdictions such as Australia, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore and also with Hong Kong.

Read the Renmin University of China report here.

Date posted: 18 September 2014

Categories: Political Dialogues, Legal Services, Centre for Common Law


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