Away from Grass-Roots? The Irony of Rural Legal Services in China
24 Pages Posted: 21 May 2012 Last revised: 24 Aug 2012
Date Written: May 20, 2012
This paper is a modest attempt to study legal pluralism in rural China using rural legal services as a case study. The paper examines three factors that are driving and constraining the development of rural legal services delivery in China: geographic limitation, professional interest and political intervention. First of all, geography matters and rurality creates natural barriers for rural residents in limiting the access to legal services. There is an inherent spatial inequality for rural population when it comes to the distribution of legal service and the geographic isolation and remoteness nurture a particular type of legal culture among rural residents. Second, professionalism matters. There are strong ideological and economic forces which pull the rural legal service providers away from their grass-roots. The calling of an emerging legal professionalism (and the related financial incentives) demands a certain degree of legal knowledge and qualification, rules of procedures, code of conduct and regularity in legal practice. In order to survive in an increasingly competitive legal market, rural legal service providers have to run legal practices as a business, considering the “bottom line” and following the logic of a legal market. Finally, politics matters. To overcome geographic barriers and correct market failure, the government would need to steps-in to provide or supplement legal service in rural areas by introducing a public dimension of legal services. Politics may ameliorate where the legal service market fails.
Keywords: legal workers, access to justice, mediation, Justice Assistants
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