Raise pay to prevent judges leaving, say experts

Updated: 2015-03-20 07:48

By Cao Yin and Luo Wangshu(China Daily)

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The pay and working conditions of judges should be improved to reduce the number who are leaving the courts, according to experts and figures in the legal profession.

Since October 2013, when the central government pledged to press forward with judicial reforms, a number of judges have left their jobs, and others are preparing to leave. They say they are under too much pressure, and their salaries have been reduced.

"The key to the reforms is not decreasing the pay of judges and prosecutors," said Zhou Guangquan, a law professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

"Instead, their incomes should be increased, and their social status and other occupational benefits should also be improved.

"If the central government cannot do this, the reforms will be hard to push forward in grassroots areas. I have seen such a trend in the current pilot programs for the reforms."

He said more judges may quit if their concerns are not addressed.

Under the reforms, judicial officers are being divided into three categories: judges and prosecutors, legal assistants, and administrators.

In Shanghai, where a pilot program is underway, the quota of judges and prosecutors has been set at 33 percent of the total. This means many current judges are becoming legal assistants.

This is aimed at making the work of judges more professional and ensuring that the best ones remain in their posts. However, a selection process based on a judge's seniority and administrative grade has emerged in some areas.

"To solve the problem and prevent more judges leaving, the reforms should be implemented in a flexible way," Zhou said.

"Newcomers should be subject to the revised policy, and current judges and prosecutors should continue under the old rules. There should be a period of transition.

"The interests of the current judges should not be damaged blindly. They need time to digest and accept the changes brought by the reforms."

Han Deyun, the head of the lawyers' association in Chongqing, said promotion opportunities for grassroots judges and prosecutors have been reduced, and this makes it harder for them to see a way forward in their careers.

"Some judges have left with the intention of joining legal practices, but they are also facing challenges," he said.

Judges wishing to become lawyers are required to take a two-year break between leaving the bench and commencing their new role.

"But if a judge works in a court for more than eight years and then becomes a lawyer, how can we make sure people working in the court treat him the same as other lawyers when he takes a case?" Han said. "This could affect the fairness of proceedings."

Contact the writer at caoyin@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 03/20/2015 page5)