Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New rules for courts re: mass incidents

China has just asked courts to help prevent protests. On the face of it, this seems like another outrage in a long stream of reversals of progress on rule of law by the new, Wang Shengjun-led Supreme People's Court. And that's how a Forbes article sees the situation:
According to the internal handbook of the Chinese communist government, China's legal system is defined as its exclusive tool to safeguard one-party rule. This week, to make this clearer to potential troublemakers, Beijing asked courts across the country to help curb rising workers' protests.

But it's not clear that Forbes is entirely right. I don't mean they're wrong. I mean the facts just aren't all in yet.

Specifically, the new rules call for a) tracking trends in labor disputes, b) thinking about the broader social consequences of cases involving big companies, c) more mediation and d) more coordination with local governments.

There's nothing wrong that I can think of with item "a". Presumably plenty of countries' courts take note of patterns in the cases they receive. But "b" could both mean adopting measures, as the American government has (though not through court rules), to tide over weakened but "too big to fail" corporations or... it could mean protecting companies from workers' cases if it seems like those cases could spread. As China Daily says:
In Fujian and Guangdong provinces, recent disputes over such issues involved hundreds of workers dragging companies to court.

"It is very important to handle such cases carefully as some large enterprises have divisional companies across the country. Court decisions in one place might lead to mass incidents in other places," Liu told China Daily.

Item "c" is also troubling. Neighborhood mediation committees in particular, which are used to sorting out domestic disputes and the like, are ill-equipped to handle labor law questions and liable to simply split the difference between employers and employees.

Finally..."d" does give pause rule-of-law-wise. Not sure what it would mean in practice, though.

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