Defense lawyers face uphill battle
Updated: 2013-01-07 07:41
By Cao Yin (China Daily)
Attorneys cite issues such as inability to meet with clients, obtain evidence
Wang Xing, a criminal lawyer in Beijing, has not been able to meet a client of his who was arrested in March.
On six separate occasions during the past month the attorney has gone to the prosecutors who are responsible for the case, returning each time without an answer to his request to meet his client.
"It's really difficult to meet my client, and it's hard for me to make a submission of innocence for him," said the 32-year-old at the Huicheng Law Firm.
About 10,000 lawyers work on criminal cases in the capital, although many of them are planning to either completely give up defense work or supplement it with financial or civil cases, according to the Beijing Lawyers Association.
Wang said most of his income does not come from being a defense attorney. "I couldn't make a living if I only handled criminal cases."
Criminal lawyers often encounter obstacles meeting clients, reading files and obtaining evidence, all of which affects the quality of their work, according to the association.
What's more, criminal lawyers' submissions are often not well received in court, the association said.
About 12 percent of criminal lawyers in Beijing have worked on cases in which the judges did not inform them that important business would be conducted in court on particular days, according to a survey undertaken by the association in 2010.
"It's hard to get a sense of achievement from being a criminal lawyer," Wang said, again referring to the case he is now working on.
The case focuses on the alleged actions of two men who are accused of breaking into a room occupied by their neighbor, Wang's client, and blaming him for their inability to surf the Internet. The client, a migrant worker in his 30s, quarreled with them and, in defense of his wife, allegedly stabbed one with a knife, injuring him, Wang said.
Wang declined to name his client, saying the case is still ongoing.
"This case, I thought, was about a simple conflict among young men," he said. "My client should be considered innocent, since he acted in self-defense, and it was the two men who first barged into my client's room."
But prosecutors from Beijing's Haidian district have deemed the case to be serious, noting the man was "seriously injured", Wang said.
Wang said he has repeatedly tried to meet the suspect in person and talk to prosecutors about the case. Although both of those steps are legal, he was always turned down by prosecuting authorities.
The case has now been sent to court, and his client is faced with spending at least three years in prison, he said.
The ratio of criminal cases pleaded by professional lawyers to all criminal cases decreased between 2004 and 2010, a sign that many legal representatives are unwilling to speak up for suspects, according to the association.
Zhao Li, a 39-year-old attorney at the King and Bond Law Firm, said the biggest difficulty lies in getting submissions accepted in court.
The lawyer, who has more than 10 years of experience working on criminal cases, said courts routinely ignore pleas of innocence that he submits on behalf of clients.
Despite the rebuffs, Zhao said he remains optimistic about his work.
He said current rules pertaining to the legal profession will, if enforced properly, protect lawyers' rights. Further safeguards will, meanwhile, come from new regulations and a revised version of the Criminal Procedure Law that took effect at the start of the year.
Tang Hongxin, a lawyer at Yingke Law Firm in Beijing, echoed Zhao, saying criminal lawyers should put more money, time and energy into cases.
He said it's becoming easier to meet clients and read files in Beijing, Shanghai and other big cities, and these changes will start to be seen across the country as the revised Criminal Procedure Law increasingly has its intended effects.
In one sign of progress, judicial authorities have reduced the number of steps lawyers must take to obtain permission to meet their clients, Tang said.
(China Daily 01/07/2013 page4)