Sharing across jurisdiction boundaries

by Sophie Leung

Guiguo Wang, dean
School of Law
City University of Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan

Chinese judges forging international links with legal training offered through overseas cooperation

The benefits of globalisation are obvious in the commercial sector, and now that approach is being extended to a rather unexpected area.

The idea of the judicial system going international may somewhat seem "far-fetched", but now judges are exchanging ideas globally, learning from different legal systems and bringing the lessons home.

A keen advocate of this fresh approach is Guiguo Wang, dean, School of Law, City University of Hong Kong. "It is crucial for Chinese judges to keep abreast of international standards in law nowadays, as China is swiftly internationalising in trade and investment," notes Professor Wang.

In light of this, the university's School of Law signed a mutual agreement with Columbia University's School of Law in the US this year to develop a one-month programme, providing advanced legal education and international exposure for Chinese judges. Under the agreement, 30 Chinese judges recommended by the National Judges College of China and about 10 students from City University will partake in the programme as part of the City University's master of laws (LLM) programme.

As one of the officiates, Professor Wang remarks on the partnership: "The collaboration is the first of its kind. The School of Law at Columbia University is among the most distinguished law schools in the US and we are honoured to cooperate with such a highly regarded institution."

The programme will commence this June and the students will spend three weeks on tutorial classes of common law in New York and one week visiting US courts and justice departments in Washington DC.

Multi-cultural exposure

In recent decades, economic development in China has grown at an unprecedented rate. "Accordingly, the judicial system should also develop, as it acts as a gatekeeper to business ethics and resolves disputes," Professor Wang says. "Fairness and effectiveness of the judiciary is vital. This allows investors and merchants to feel secure in the knowledge that they have sufficient legal protection."

To support the fast-paced economic development in China, well-versed judges are now in rising demand. Professor Wang notes, "The LLM programme aims to raise the bar for Chinese judiciary and judges who will have the opportunities to learn from their US counterparts and Hong Kong law practitioners."

Classes will give participants the benefit of multi-cultural exposure. By learning from fellows from other regions, judges can widen their perspectives and use their experiences to make better judgments. "China has been admitted into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and many international business agreements have been forged. It is of indispensable significance that China acknowledges not only globalised business practice, but also international legal standards," Professor Wang emphasises.

In addition to the study trip to the US, student admitted into the programme are given regular classes by professors in law from other top institutions in the US through online communications. "For instance, we have invited professors from Yale University to teach some of our classes," Professor Wang explains. "In our video-link room, teachers and students can conduct conversations and discussions on academic and legal issues through video conferencing."

Common spirit

With regard to current standards of judicial practice in China, Professor Wang reveals that it is common to have only a few pages of documents for judicial decisions, in contrast to the books of many more pages produced in Hong Kong and the US. "Although it is clear that judiciary quality does not rely on the volume of judicial documents, such phenomenon reveals insufficient elaboration of assumptions, reasoning and rationales behind judges' decisions," he notes.

In his view, judges must be able to explain precisely how they arrive at their verdicts. One of the strengths of the common law legal system is its extensive case analysis and meticulous judicial writing style. These help to avoid any potential confusion and further disputes. "Simply put, judges should not only tell guilty parties of their wrongdoings, but also explain the reasons for verdicts in an unbiased manner to all parties," Professor Wang adds.

Further, he points out that most legal systems in developed countries have adopted, to a large extent, the spirit of common law, in which law and the corresponding legal systems are developed through the independent decisions of courts.

"I believe this pioneering collaborative initiative can benefit judges on the mainland, in Hong Kong and the US, and further advance the development of our society as a whole," Professor Wang concludes.

Enhanced professionalism

  • Quality judicial and legal systems indispensable to sustainable economic growth
  • International exposure essential to professional judges' training
  • Common law system and judicial independence inspiring to other legal systems

Taken from Career Times 16 January 2009, p. A7
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