China’s Communist Party Central Committee concluded its Fourth Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee on 23 October 2014, with a communique which declared sweeping judicial reforms while hailing the overarching role of the Constitution in the country’s legal system.

The Fourth Plenum announcements focus on “the rule of law”  for the first time and represent a key milestone in the Party’s history. As a result, China will begin to undergo significant judicial reforms based on the blueprint set out under communique, implementing changes which are likely to reshape China’s political, economic and legal environment.

It is expected that these changes will have a significant impact on China’s long term economic growth and political stability, and are likely to positively benefit those doing business in China and with China.

Significant legal reform

The communique affirms that ‘governing by law’ should put governing in line with the Constitution, which is at the forefront, and that China will work to build a law-abiding government. This echoes the theme used in speeches by President Xi Jinping in which he emphases the importance of respect for law and the Constitution.

The communique specifies some promising legal reforms for the judicial system and government administrators, including:

• Efforts to ensure that the country is governed under the Constitution and the law. This will include the establishment of a complete legislative system, efficient enforcement mechanisms, a rigorous supervision system and a strong safeguarding system for implementation.

• Building a legal system which ensures justice, fairness and transparency and ensuring that administrative authorities operate according to the law. Increased scrutiny of government decision-making will be implemented, with lifelong accountability for major decisions by officials and a public record set up to name officials who have interfered in judicial cases.

• Developing a competent team of legal professionals and recruiting legislators, judges and prosecutors from the legal profession.

• The setting up of circuit courts by the Supreme People’s Court. The establishment of cross-administrative region courts will be explored (a move most likely directed at curbing regional protectionism and the influence of local governments).

There is no doubt that the endorsement of the rule of law by the Chinese central authority is significant in instilling public confidence, both domestically and abroad, in China’s legal system.