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China strives to better handle petitions

Xinhua, February 26, 2014 Adjust font size:

China's State Bureau for Letters and Calls has hailed a set of new rules on the country's petition system as it highlighted the rule of law and protection of petitioners' rights.

While confirming the role of petitions in enabling the government to solve conflicts, a bureau statement released on Wednesday noted "plenty of problems" in the petition system as "some local departments and authorities harm people's interests and hurt their feelings."

A set of guidelines on reforming the petition system, revealed on Tuesday by the general offices of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, stipulated that authorities must stick to lawful means to dissolve conflicts and disputes, and any malpractice that constrains the public from legal petitioning will be rectified and prohibited.

Moreover, petition cases will be diverted to courts if they involve lawsuits, and government policy and decision-making will become more transparent and enlist more public participation, according to the guidelines.

The new rules will help to better handle civil disputes and protect citizens' legitimate rights and interests, the bureau statement said.

They will also help facilitate improvements and further reforms in this system, it added.

Petitioning, also known as letters and calls, is the administrative system for hearing public complaints and grievances.

Many complaints are filed each year in China, in which petitioners generally see injustice in land acquisition, social security, education, healthcare or environmental protection.

Petition system reform should be carried out in the spirit of rule of law, said law professor Yang Xiaojun with the Chinese Academy of Governance. "When we push the reform in petition system, we must also ensure that judicial and procuratorial bodies are exercising their respective powers independently and impartially in accordance with the law."

"With the rapid economic and social development in China, people's awareness of protecting their rights is growing and their interests and appeals are diversifying, a fact that has pushed up the number of petitions," said Yan Jirong, a professor with Peking University's School of Government.

"Moreover, some cases that undermined judicial justice and independence have impaired the public's confidence in the judiciary and fueled the rise of petitions," Yan noted.

Xin Ming, a professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said that the petition system has long been a very important channel for the public to vent their grievances.

"However, as the number of petitioners was once considered a gauge to evaluate the performance of local governments, some local officials are trying everything they can to stop petitioners from lodging a complaint to a superior authority, a 'disgrace' for the originating place's government," Yan said.

Under the new rules, improvements will be made in the assessment of governments regarding the handling of petitions, by placing more stock in the effectiveness of reasonable settlements.

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