Strengthening Legal Defence

Criminal defence lawyers in China still encounter many difficulties at both the pre-trial and the trial stage. Amendments to legislation have strengthened the role of the defence lawyer but in practice significant issues remain. For instance, there is no privileged attorney-client relationship, and a lack of impunity when challenging state evidence. For greater balance in the criminal justice system further strengthening of the rights and role of the defence is essential.

Most of GBCC’s projects related to criminal justice reform incorporate an aspect of capacity building among lawyers, in particular by stressing the importance of involving lawyers in designing pilot rules and implementation. Through our work, Chinese partners have recognised the importance of enhancing lawyers’ roles in criminal justice procedural reform, and our partners always ensure that lawyers are consulted when it comes to designing pilot rules. This is particularly valuable given that in China less than 30% of suspects charged with criminal offences are represented by lawyers. Some of our projects which have focused specifically on strengthening legal defence are summarised below.

Strengthening Defence in Death Penalty Cases

The specific aim of this project (2003-2006) was to strengthen the capacity of defence lawyers so as to promote the legal rights of those accused of capital crimes. We achieved this through training modules for lawyers, workshops with legal aid centres, professional networking, high-level dialogue and research. This project was funded by the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office “Global Opportunities Fund”.

For more information on this project, see our Death Penalty project page.

Strengthening the Rights of Defence Lawyers in China

In June 2008 a new Chinese Lawyers Law came into effect, yet full implementation remained difficult. Following its promulgation, the law stimulated vigorous discussion among legal professionals in China, particularly regarding the apparent contradictions between the increased rights in criminal procedure which the new law conferred upon Chinese defence lawyers, and the inconsistencies of these rights with the provisions of the existing Criminal Procedure Law (CPL).

GBCC worked with the Criminal Law Science Department at Renmin University (CCLSR) and No2 Beijing Municipal Procuratorate to launch a two-year project in July 2008 in response to these contradictions. This project supported the implementation of the new lawyer’s law and contributed to the consultations on reform of the Criminal Procedure Law, both by working on improvements in the professional relationship between the prosecution and the defence, and by providing a comparative approach with reference to international standards. Chinese legal professionals consider the UK a benchmark in terms of criminal justice, and in this case were keen to seek a greater understanding of the policy and practice of fair trial rights.

Code of Conduct for China's Lawyers

GBCC’s Lawyers’ Code of Conduct project (2006-2007) aimed to raise awareness of professional ethics among China’s lawyers and deliver a code of conduct. Project activities included a moot court simulation, demonstrating different perspectives on disciplinary hearings for attorneys’ rights, research and discussion of professional ethics in different legal cultures, and other models of professional conduct codes. There were also discussions around current limitations on defence lawyers in China as well as training programmes. A new code of conduct for defence lawyers was drafted and presented to the All China Lawyers' Association and Ministry of Justice for national adoption. This project was funded by the Dutch Embassy in Beijing.