JFA Successfully Promotes the Registration of Three Public Interest Litigations.
On February 17th (the last working day before Chinese Spring Festival), the Lanzhou Contamination Cases were successfully registered. It has been ten months since the first time Lanzhou Veolia Water Company was sued. According to Chinese Law, the court should decide whether or not to accept a case sometime within the seven days following a prosecution.
According to JFA (Justice For All), the Lanzhou Contamination Cases includes at least 4 cases and involves 14 plaintiffs. Lanzhou Veolia is the defendant in all four civil actions, and has been asked to pay for: moral damage, the cost of bottled water and physical examinations, and is being charged for the loss of work hours. Lanzhou Veolia is a joint Sino-French water supply enterprise. Veolia has a stake of 45% in Lanzhou Veolia company, and the Lanzhou city government accounts for 55% of the shares. On April 14, 2014, the local government and Veolia admitted that tap water had been contaminated. A benzene leak on a petroleum pipeline, which is near a water pipeline, contaminated the local water supply, 300 million Lanzhou citizen were influenced. Last month, however, it was revealed that the tap water had already been polluted. The local government denied this and had the person who spread this information detained.
JFA believes that the key of the successful registration is the action of citizens and the
change of macropolicy. On February 1st, under the suggestion of JFA, five plaintiffs wrote a letter to the chief judge of the SJC, Zhouqiang, in order to express the difficulty of obtaining registration. On February 3rd, the SJC released an administrative document, The Opinion of the Supreme People’s Court on Comprehensively Expanding the Reform of the People’s Court, to propose the establishment of a registration system, which would mean that any lawsuit can be registered without investigation on the details. On February 15th, the local court contacted the five plaintiffs to notify them that their case would be registered the following week. Later we found out that, in the other three cases aimed at Veolia, and on the same day, at least five people received the same notice through telephone calls from the court.
JFA judges that, because the Lanzhou Contamination Crisis was not an isolated incident, the registration difficulties in China will not become less ubiquitous. Before the crisis, JFA had used the same methods to promote the acceptance of two other PIL, which are described as follows:
- Guizhou AIDS employment discrimination case (civil action). A teacher was diagnosed HIV positive, and as a result he was denied a teaching position. Considering the difficulty of case registration, we first choose labor arbitration, expecting to sue again after arbitration procedure. Three years ago, a similar AIDS discrimination case happened in Guizhou, but the local court refused to accept it, even though they were required to by law. Surprisingly, the court did not accept this case either. However, according to Chinese law, the court cannot refuse to accept such case if the defendant is sued after arbitration. Twenty days after the appeal, we advised the party of two Guizhou AIDS discrimination cases in employment to write to the chief judge of the SJC to call on the public to pay attention to the problem. On January 23rd, the superior court announced its ruling that court of first instance must accept the case ， over forty days beyond the statute of limitation.
- The Ministry of Agriculture information disclosure case (administrative proceeding). A citizen in Beijing applied for making the test report of a herbicide known to the public to confirm that the product is non-poisonous. However, the Ministry of Agriculture considered the report a “business secret”, and therefore not allowed to be made public. The citizen took the Ministry of Agriculture to court, but after the court received the materials, the case was not registered during four months, nor was a judge provided. After the case was accepted by the court, we encouraged the plaintiff to write to the SJC as soon as possible. On the morning of January 27th, the letter was sent off. On the afternoon of January 28th, the same judge who had handled this case before sent a telegram to the plaintiff to inform him of the registration. In the letter from the SJC, we pointed out the name and the position of this judge. After inquiring, the SJC signed our letter on January 27th.
In the above-mentioned cases, we quoted a document from the Eighteen Fourth Plenary Session and the speech from the chief judge of SJC respectively. The Decision of the Party Central Committee on the overall progress of “Rule by Law” and other major issues was released in November, 2014, pointing out that we should “change the filing review system into case registration system ”. For ten days in mid-December, the chief judge emphasized that we should grasp the chance of reforming the case registration system and adopt the newly modified administrative procedure law, unblock the access to the registration of administrative cases, and safeguard the people’s right to appeal according to law, and to never allow the people to go on unassisted.
The above cases indicate:
- Chinese social organizations have qualified ability to grasp the development trends of a specific field.
- In order to ensure more widespread improvement, reforms need to start with the grass root people. Only then can the progress be conducted effectively.
Though the effect of “the rule of law” has emerged, there are still some elements should be noted:
- The above PIL are all relatively well known, and had previously been reported by national media before.
- Today, China is in the process of reorganizing its current bureaucrat system.
- All the cases above were solved by supervisory process (which was vagued by bureaucrat system) only, rather than by illegal procedure.
- The success of the above cases are not the result of the court’s active initiative to change its practices, but rather a result of the letters from the plaintiffs.
This kind of bureaucracy is reflected in the information falsified by the courts. For example, in the case of Lanzhou, the court unexpectedly claimed that the prosecution materials weren’t received until February 17th, 2015.
In order to avoid the “the rule of law” becoming a mere formality or a passing phase, we challenge everyone to take responsibility in order to help build the society with a more influential rule of law.