Civil Code ensures people-centered justice

By Cao Yin China Daily Global Updated: 2022-01-17

The nation's fundamental law provides greater efficiency in case resolution. Cao Yin reports.

Upholding a people-centered approach to the implementation of the Civil Code will better meet people's demands and provide greater thoroughness in solving social disputes, according to judges in Beijing.

The comments came about a year after the code came into effect.

As China's first piece of legislation to be defined as a "code" and the country's fundamental law to regulate civil behavior, it was approved in May 2020 by the National People's Congress, the country's top legislative body.

Although the code, which came into force on Jan 1 last year, highlights the protection of legitimate rights and interests in many areas, "some social disputes, especially long-term problems, will remain unresolved if we only focus on legal issues", said Yang Jing, a judge at Beijing Haidian District People's Court.

"To end long-term disputes between litigants and further ensure social stability, we should uphold a people-centered approach when handling cases, even though it means we have to do extra work at times."

For example, on May 31, Yang spent about eight hours mediating in an inheritance case among three elderly litigants, including the two plaintiffs who participated via video link because of the inconvenience of traveling to the court.

It was almost 10 pm when Yang's work day finally ended.

The case revolved around an apartment owned by a deceased academic, who had lived in a dorm at his college while one of his three children occupied the apartment.

When the father died, the occupant decided to remain in the apartment, but under the Civil Code, he had to reach an agreement with his siblings and the college, which owned the property rights because the academic had used the school's preferential policies to purchase the apartment at a favorable rate.

The occupant's siblings agreed that he could stay, but only on the condition that they each received a financial settlement equal to the sum they would have gained if the apartment had been sold.

Moreover, the defendant had to accept the responsibility of dealing with clearing their father's dorm room-which contained items of scholarly value, such as books, documents and artifacts, along with some furniture-before handing it back to the college authorities.

"Clearing the dorm room was really a problem that the litigants should have resolved themselves, but I decided to help them after I learned that there were many books, antiques and pieces of furniture whose ownership needed to be attributed," Yang said.

"Otherwise, deciding ownership would have been difficult for the three litigants, all age 60 and older, and might even provoke further conflict among them."

Yang's mediation saw many of the books and documents donated to the college library, while most of the other artifacts were donated to the Haidian District Museum.

Recalling the lengthy mediation process, Yang said it had been worth the time. "I knew I had done the right thing when the 75-year-old defendant, who had attended the court, bowed to thank me after the dispute had been resolved," she said.

Ma Li, lawyer for the plaintiffs, also expressed her gratitude for the judge's patience and said her clients were satisfied with the result.

She said it was a simple inheritance case from the legal perspective. "However, solving it thoroughly was a challenge because division of the property had caused long-term conflict in the family, and moving the items in the dorm also required the efforts of other bodies, such as the district museum and the college library," said Ma, who specializes in civil cases.

"If the judge had let the three litigants think of a way to dispose of those items, the dispute might have been endless. My clients and I felt respected during the mediation process, and the judge ensured a happy ending to the dispute."

She added that the settlement not only reflected the court's accurate application of the code, but also showed that the judge had focused on personal needs in resolving the dispute.

Guiding ideology

The people-centered approach was one of 11 requirements stressed by President Xi Jinping in November 2020, when he addressed a central conference on work related to overall law-based governance.

The meeting marked the establishment of Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law, taking it as the guiding ideology for law-based governance, and the 11 core requirements embody the rich implications of the Thought.

At the meeting, Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, emphasized the need to stay on the path of the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and stressed that the Party's leadership in law-based governance must be upheld.

Yang Weidong, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said the Thought is the country's milestone in advancing the rule of law, adding that the ideology has been implemented effectively in many aspects of legislation during the past year.

He used the code as an example, adding that the formulation and implementation of laws have contributed to solving people's problems in a number of new fields.

Key legal instrument

As an encyclopedia of social activities and a key legal instrument for protecting rights, the code provides strong protection of privacy and data as a way of preventing leaks of personal information, Yang Weidong said.

He added that the code illustrates the country's strong ability to meet people's growing demands through law-based methods, meaning that the legislation serves the people.

Qin Pengbo, a judges' assistant at the court in Haidian, said offering litigants more convenience in lawsuits is also a way for the courts to fulfill the Thought.

"We've set up online platforms for case filing, trials, mediation and evidence exchange, which means litigants don't need to travel to court to deal with legal affairs," he said.

"The online services have not only saved time and travel costs for litigants, but are also a necessity for us during the (COVID-19) epidemic."

For example, last year, the court used its online mediation platform to resolve a dispute over the renting of an apartment between two litigants overseas, one living in Australia and the other in Sweden, he said.

"The application of technology makes our court smart, which gives people easier access to litigation and also improves our judicial efficiency," he said, adding that he regarded this as the biggest step in the progress of rule of law last year.

Ruan Chuansheng, a lawyer in Shanghai, said that his right to meet and defend clients has been better guaranteed in the city in recent years, and the code is the best way for judicial authorities, including prison management bureaus and justice departments, to implement the Thought.

"It contributes to both protecting the rights of lawyers, such as myself, suspects and defendants," he said. "The protection shows that the authorities take a people-centered approach to their work, and that will help the country develop into a law-based nation."

In the future, Qin said he will focus more on solving problems in new fields, including internet healthcare provision, livestreaming platforms, big data and privacy protection.

"I hope to regulate the industries while meeting litigants' demands by making more high-quality verdicts," he said.


Officials from a procuratorate in Handan, Hebei province, explain the law to primary school students in December 2020. HAO QUNYING/FOR CHINA DAILY


Volunteers discuss the Civil Code with residents of Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, in April. SHI YUCHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY


Primary school students pledge to observe the law in Zaozhuang, Shandong province, in September 2020. JI ZHE/FOR CHINA DAILY


A police officer communicates with hearing- and speech-impaired residents of Chongqing in April. WANG QUANCHAO/XINHUA


Volunteers and residents discuss legislation in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, in April. SHI YUCHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY


Volunteers share legal knowledge with migrant workers in Zhenjiang in January last year. SHI YUCHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY


A judge hears a case held at a fruit farm in a village in Zibo, Shandong province, in October. ZHAO DONGSHAN/FOR CHINA DAILY

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