China to let public watch trials public

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The Independent Online
CHINA'S COURTS are to make more trials open to the publicto give mainland justice greater transparency. The Supreme Court said trials should be publicised in advance and verdicts issued in closed courtrooms would be subject to retrial.

Human rights organisations will be closely monitoring how this order is implemented. Trials deemed to involve issues of "national security" will not be open, and it is unlikely that hearings involving dissidents will allow uninvited guests. Under existing arrangements, China often claims a trial has been held "in public", when the reality is that the room is peopled only by carefully selected government officials.

A carefully controlled opening of the courts started last year in Peking, when the city's Number One Intermediate People's Court opened to the public and also broadcast some non-sensitive cases live on television. Other courts around the country followed suit.

Under the new order, publicised in yesterday's Chinese newspapers, the lowest of the three tiers of courts must always be open unless the case involves state secrets, juvenile delinquency, personal privacy, divorce or commercial secrets.

The public's right to know remains curtailed, however. Even in open trials, Chinese journalists will need permission to attend. The Independent was permitted to watch a trial last year, but access by foreigners is still hard to arrange.

In the criminal trials of dissidents last year, the new right to a lawyer and adequate notice of the trial date proved worthless. One dissident's lawyer was detained, and another dissident was given just three days' notice of his appearance.