China lawmaker expects debate over new civil code to intensify

(L-R) Wang Aili, Director-General of the Office of Criminal Laws of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, Zhang Rongshun, Vice Chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of NPC Standing Committee, Xu Anbiao, Vice Chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of NPC Standing Committee, hold a news conference on the sidelines of the NPC, in Beijing, China, March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

Public debate over an overhaul of China’s civil law will grow over the next three years as lawmakers begin to write specific provisions that affect the lives of citizens in the world’s most populous nation, a top lawmaker said on Thursday.

China’s Communist leaders on Wednesday released the underpinning provisions of sweeping new laws that will codify new social responsibilities and protections for the country’s 1.4 billion people.

The rules form the preamble of a civil code and are expected to be given the formal stamp of approval next week at the close of the yearly meet of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress.

The code itself is expected to be finalised by 2020, but a top legal advisor to China’s parliament said on Thursday that the drafting process will become more difficult as lawmakers hone in on specific laws for contentious issues.

“The hardest and most difficult part of the (civil code) compilation is handling everyone’s suggestions,” said Zhang Rongshun, deputy head of the NPC’s legal advisory body, adding that they had received over 70,000 recommendations during the preamble drafting.

“The basic principles are easier, relatively speaking, but in the future (the law) will touch on all sorts of different things and there will be more suggestions,” Zhang said, speaking at a press conference on the general rules of the code.

China’s laws go through a public consultation process, where early drafts are released to the public for comment.

The volume of public input does not necessarily mean more changes to the final provisions, but fierce pushback on issues like property rights has in the past delayed laws from being passed on time.

“All people are experts on the civil law because after every person opens their eyes each day they take civil actions, so they are all authorities,” Zhang said.

The code is part of President Xi Jinping’s wider push to “comprehensively govern the nation by law”, a phrase that is used both to describe updating China’s law for modern realities and increasing Party control via the judiciary.

Many legal experts had said that the latest draft of general rules falls short of enshrining sweeping private rights and makes little progress in key areas including property and civil liberties.

The final code is expected to touch on everything from child custody battles, “Good Samaritans” who help strangers in emergencies and compensation for people forced to leave their homes during redevelopment.

The code is expected to revise aspects of China’s current civil law that are “out of step with reality,” Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the NPC’s standing committee, said on Wednesday.

But the code must also “increase public awareness of the importance of obeying rules” and “promote order,” he said.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Sam Holmes)


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