updated 12/20/2004 2:16:34 AM ET 2004-12-20T07:16:34

China will start holding jury trials next year as part of court reforms that also will increase the number of judges, state media reported Monday.

The measures were announced by China’s highest court after a meeting last week on how to best prepare the courts to handle cases stemming from the country’s sweeping economic changes, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Jurors are to be elected to five-year terms and must have at least two years of university education, the Xinhua report and other state media said. Under the current system, judges are the sole arbiters in court cases.

Elections are not unheard of in China. The communist government has used nonpartisan “village elections” in recent years to pick its lowest-level officials and members of local legislatures.

However, it wasn’t clear how the use of juries would affect the two biggest public complaints about Chinese courts — corruption by court officials and interference by Communist Party officials.

The number of judges in Chinese courts will increase by 10 percent, the reports said, citing Xiao Yang, president of the Supreme People’s Court.

Xiao promised that courts would be tougher on corruption and intellectual property theft — two politically sensitive issues — as well as smuggling and dereliction of duty, the reports said.

Courts face rising numbers of cases involving state-owned company reforms, disputes of back pay, illegal land acquisitions and burglaries, Xiao said.

“During such a period, the country needs improvement in its judicial capacity,” he was quoted as saying.

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