Public interest to get new ally in pilot project

Updated: 2015-06-25 07:47

By Zhang Yi(China Daily)

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Proposal would allow prosecutors to take stronger role in cases of serious harm, especially to the environment

Prosecuting departments in 13 cities and regions will be given the green light to file charges in defense of the public interest in broader areas, especially in cases of serious environmental damage.

On Wednesday, the nation's top procuratorate proposed granting prosecutors in pilot areas the right to act as complainants in public interest cases.

Previously, charges were filed mainly in criminal cases and prosecutors acted as watchdogs in civil and governmental liability cases. Now they can take an even stronger position in protecting the public.

Procurator-General Cao Jianming of the Supreme People's Procuratorate brought the proposal to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, for discussion during its bimonthly session.

The proposal is expected to be approved on July 1 by a vote of the legislature.

Cases concerning the public interest have increased in recent years, mostly involving environmental pollution and the safety of food and drugs, Cao said.

"The public has called for prosecuting departments to file charges against people or entities alleged to have caused serious damage to the public. However, current laws don't specify whether or not prosecutors can act as accusers in such cases," Cao said.

The new practice, once approved by the legislature, will be launched in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region; in Jilin, Jiangsu, Anhui, Fujian, Shandong, Hubei, Guangdong, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces; and in Beijing.

Litigation will initially be limited to environmental protection, food and drug safety, protection of national assets and the distribution of national lands.

The top procuratorate will work with the top court to formulate detailed regulations, Cao said, adding that his department will deliver a midterm report during a two-year trial of the new practice.

The mechanism will be written into law after two years if it is shown to be an effective approach. The move parallels legislation allowing more entities to file lawsuits in the public interest.

Two weeks ago, an environmental group in Dalian, Liaoning province, filed a public interest case demanding nearly 500 million yuan ($81 million) in compensation for pollution damage caused by an explosion of a China National Petroleum Corp pipeline in July 2010. The lawsuit involved the largest claim ever in environmental cases across the country. It is also the first major litigation filed after nonprofit organizations were granted standing to lodge complaints in the public interest.

The Dalian Environmental Protection Volunteer Association, a nonprofit organization founded in June 2003, filed the lawsuit against seven companies under the petroleum giant that are alleged to be responsible for the accident.

With more participants in the litigation, a court is likely to receive other cases on the same issue. Under procedural rules, if several accusers lodge complaints on the same issue, the court will choose a delegate from among them.

Public interest to get new ally in pilot project

(China Daily 06/25/2015 page4)