Chinese lawyers cautious on new head of highest court in mainland
AFPBEIJING -- A former legal scholar was named as head of China's top court Friday amid calls for the country's legal system to be given more independence.
March 16, 2013, 12:06 am TWN
But wary lawyers said Zhou Qiang (周強) was unlikely to grant the courts greater freedom, although they added he was likely to be an improvement on his predecessor.
Zhou, 52, formerly the top party official in the southern province of Hunan, who has a masters degree in law, was appointed head of the Supreme People's Court at the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament.
The supreme court is the highest court of review in all legal cases and approves all death sentences, but like all courts in China reaches verdicts with the guidance of officials from the ruling Communist Party.
Senior communist officials regularly promise to promote the rule of law, but the reality remains that political interference in trials is common, and acquittals are extremely rare.
Zhou replaces Wang Shengjun, a career official with no legal experience, who drew lawyers' ire for saying that the interests of the party came ahead of the constitution and the law after his appointment in 2008.
Legal specialists said Zhou could prove to be an improvement, but would be heavily constrained by his relatively low rank in the party hierarchy — he is not a member of its 25-strong Politburo, only of the larger and lower Central Committee.
“His legal education means he might place more emphasis on using the law,” said Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's most celebrated human rights lawyers, who has represented dissident artist Ai Weiwei.
But he added: “Basically Zhou is a politician ... whether he promotes the development of China's legal system depends on other officials.”