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Legal Aid Helped 430,000 Chinese in 2005

Chinese lawyers gave legal aid to 433,965 litigants in 2005, up 48 percent from the previous year, it was disclosed at a national legal aid meeting on Tuesday.

Duan Zhengkun, vice minister of justice, added that China's central finance for the first time earmarked 50 million yuan (US$6.2 million) for legal aid in impoverished areas.

Local governments allocated 262.2 million yuan for legal aid.

China currently has 4,000 full-time legal aid lawyers.

The Ministry of Justice issued a document in 2004 requiring all the lawyers to handle a certain number of legal aid cases under assignment from local legal aid organizations.

Duan said the ultimate goal for legal aid is to safeguard the fundamental interests of needy people and to assure that every citizen has equal access to justice.

Yang Ninghua, an official in charge of legal aid in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region said that the region had more than 3,500 legal aid volunteers and 238 grassroots legal aid organizations. Citizens can gain access to legal aid in 30 minutes.

Legal aid organizations in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province handled more than 12,000 legal aid cases in 2005, 2,000 of which were to help migrant workers retrieve payments in arrears.

Chen Congjun, director of the Heilongjiang provincial legal aid center said her organization successfully helped 198 migrant workers retrieve two million yuan in unpaid salaries, exempt of any fees payable to judicial organs.

Duan said that rapid economic development and the deepening of reform and opening-up have resulted in disputes relating to land grabs, state-owned enterprise reform and labor contracts. If such disputes are not handled properly, there could be mass protests and disorder.

In a bid to offer higher quality and efficient legal aid to needy litigants, the national legal aid system will probably adopt an 11th five-year guideline for legal aid, which from 2006 to 2010 aims to increase financial input from governments to legal aid by 20 percent a year, and the number of legal aid cases also by 20 percent a year.

(Xinhua News Agency January 11, 2006)

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