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Comparative Criminal Law and Enforcement: China - The Institutions Of Criminal Justice

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One needs to look into the relations between criminal justice institutions and the CCP and the interrelations between those institutions to understand the structure of criminal justice in China.

The Chinese Communist Party. China is still a one-party state. The CCP is the leading political party; its policies dominate the criminal justice system. Institutionally, the CCP exercises its immense power in three principal ways. First, it appoints and removes persons, most of them being CCP members, to and from senior positions in criminal justice institutions at each level. Key positions, including the presidents of the people's court and of the people's procuracy and chiefs of police are tightly controlled by the CCP. The appointment and removal, as a rule, is approved by the respective people's congress.

Second, the CCP has a vast array of powerful institutions with specific political responsibilities to which the government is accountable. Two CCP institutions have had great effect on the criminal justice system, the Political and Legal Commission (PLC) and the Commission of Disciplinary Inspection (CDI). The PLC at the central and local levels is the ultimate authority to which the court, procuracy, and police and other lawrelated institutions are responsible. The PLC makes criminal justice policies, determines work priority, coordinates different legal institutions and settles their internal conflict. PLCs at the local level in particular frequently intervene in the daily operation of the criminal justice institutions.

The third control is the exclusion of the criminal justice institutions from investigating crimes perpetrated by CCP officials. It is longstanding policy that the CCP is above the law in many aspects. Where a CCP official commits a crime in the course of executing his or her duty, corruption in particular, the CCP, through its CDIs at the national and local levels, has the power to investigate the offense, and to determine whether the criminal law should be applied. Therefore the police cannot initiate a criminal investigation into the CCP or its ranking members, the prosecution cannot authorize the arrest of a ranking CCP member without the prior approval of a competent CCP authority, and the courts have been compliant to the demands of the CCP. In relation to this type of offense, the CCP is effectively beyond the reach of the criminal law, and the criminal justice system merely performs a legal formality, giving legal effect to the CCP's decision.

Local/central relations. The CCP leadership is fragmented, however. China does not have a centralized legal leadership, and the power of central criminal justice authorities—the MPS, the SPC, and the SPP—are limited. There is always a tension between the local CCP committee and the central criminal justice authorities over the control of local criminal justice institutions.

Local criminal justice institutions are accountable to both the central criminal justice authorities and the local CCP committee. This particular system of accountability is referred to as a combination of line and area, the latter taking priority. The central criminal justice authorities exercise the professional leadership (the line) and determine the structure, function, and redistribution of power inside the institutions. However the professional leadership is restricted by the control of the local CCP Committee (the area), which controls the budget, personnel, and other financial sources of the local criminal justice institutions.

The vertical system and dual leadership create a fragmented structure of authority in the criminal justice system. But given the political and financial dependence of local criminal justice institutions on the local CCP committee, the control exerted by the local CCP committee is more substantial and indeed overwhelming, negating the centralized command at a national level.

Institutional mutual independence. While the criminal justice institutions are dependent on the CCP and compliant to its demand, they are independent from each other. Governing the relations among the criminal justice institutions is the Criminal Procedural Law (CPL), enacted in 1979, and substantially amended in 1996. Under the CPL, one institution does not have legal supremacy over the other in the criminal process. They have the equal authority to interpret and enforce laws in relation to their own rights and duties, largely without external supervision.

Criminal process in China is divided into three legal steps: investigation, prosecution, and trial. There are three corresponding institutions in charge of each step: the investigative organs (mainly the police), the procuracy, and the courts. The police, the procuracy, and the courts exercise their respective powers independently in accordance with the law and are meant—in theory, at least—to operate free of any interference by any administrative organ, public organization, or individual (CPL, Art. 5). The relationship between the three organs is that they "shall divide responsibilities, coordinate their efforts and check each other to ensure the correct and effective enforcement of law." (CPL, Art. 7).

The judiciary is not supreme in the criminal process, it is one of the government departments. Where a conflict occurs between the different institutions, those involved have to reach a consensus through negotiation, otherwise the dispute has to be settled by the PLC. There is a clear tendency for the criminal justice institutions to avoid confronting each other.

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