The Ministry of Justice has called for more effort to ensure legal
aid reaches the people that need it most.
Minister of Justice Zhang Fusen said better definitions are needed
to determine who is eligible for legal aid.
Developing specific criteria would help implement the Regulation on
Legal Aid, Zhang said during a seminar in Beijing yesterday to mark
the first anniversary of the enactment of the regulation.
Legal aid was first initiated by the ministry in 1994. It has
provided counseling to more than 600,000 people and handled 810,000
cases to more than 130,000 people in a decade.
2003, nearly 170,000 cases received legal aid, a jump of 23 percent
More than 190,000 people received counseling from it, an increase
of 57 percent from the year before.
the first half year of 2004, almost 74,000 cases received legal
aid, a 6 per cent jump from the same period last year.
"However, the financial support for the legal aid is still
inadequate, especially in western China and other less-developed
areas," he said. Statistics suggest that in China, funding for
legal aid is 0.06 yuan (US$0.7 cent) per capita, far less than the
average of developing countries.
"It is the government's responsibility to finance legal aid," Zhang
"To solve the financial shortage, financial assistance from both
the central and local governments is needed to guarantee the basic
cost of legal aid in less-developed areas."
The lack of funding is not the only problem facing legal aid in the
things stand right now, not everyone is eligible.
After a program was started to help migrant workers sue their
employers for back payments, the Centre for Legal Aid in Beijing
received more than 1,000 applications in the first half month, but
only 3 per cent got help while most failed to meet the
"With the development of the economy and society, legal aid should
be enjoyed by more people who can not afford the cost of a suit,"
another development, the role of lawyers offering aid is also on
"About 60 percent of the cases have been conducted by professional
lawyers, but many of them are under financial pressure as they get
small subsidies from the government," said Gao Zongze, chairman of
the All-China Lawyers Association.
"This is one of biggest obstacles preventing lawyers from taking
such cases," Gao said.
"Given a positive mechanism where their basic financial costs can
be met, more lawyers would like to join in legal aid," said Li Dun,
professor from Tsinghua University.
"So the related standards of subsidy for the lawyers must be set as
soon as possible," the minister said.
Moreover, better coordination between different sections of the
government, such as judicial bodies and executive sectors
concerning civil affairs, trade and commerce, medication and labor
security still need to further develop legal aid, he said.
"We will set an institution of co-ordination for the sectors and
legal aid apartments to cut down on related costs. Thus we can
really solve the economic problems that keep the impoverished away
from court," Zhang said.
More than 2,800 government-funded institutions, societies in
universities and non-government organizations both from home and
abroad have lent a helping hand to improve legal aid in China.
(China Daily August 30, 2004)