Preempting Court-Civil Society Synergy: How China Balances Judicial Autonomy and Legal Activism
Hong Kong Law Journal, Vol. 50, p. 1081, 2020
37 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2020 Last revised: 13 Jan 2023
Date Written: October 8, 2020
In the past two decades, two successive Chinese administrations have taken two drastically different and seemingly self-contradictory stances towards judicial autonomy and legal activism. Hu Jintao, under the banner of “harmonious society,” adopted a relatively mild approach towards activist lawyers while concurrently undermining court independence. The current administration, on the other hand, has taken the opposite route in an effort to promote “law-based governance,” severely limiting the space for legal activism while pressing for reform aimed at enhancing judges’ autonomy and professionalism. This study argues that the transition was motivated by a combination of three factors: the regime’s changing conception of its own legitimacy, the recent centralization of political power, and the regime’s continual desire to avoid synergy between judicial autonomy and legal activism, which it deems a threat to social and political stability.
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