Top leader Xi Jinping has quoted from Francis Bacon's essay, Of Judicature, for the second time: "One foul sentence doth more hurt, than many foul examples. For these do but corrupt the stream, the other corrupteth the fountain." Like the last time, he quoted Bacon this time too to emphasize the significance of a fair and just judiciary, elaborating the Party's version of rule of law.
Like Xi reiterated, a credible and trusted judiciary is the last line of defense for fairness and justice in society.
The credibility crisis of the country's judicial officials and institutions is the outcome of the accumulation of their misdeeds, however small the proportion be. A judiciary that has no respect for the law is in itself a threat to justice.
So whether or not the Party's latest decision to govern in accordance with law can bear the anticipated fruit in the real world rests ultimately on whether or not it can build a government which is in awe of the law.
The Fourth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has come up with plenty of worthy technicalities that, once put into practice, may make many a difference. On the conceptual level, it may take a lot of trials to "carry out the CPC's leadership throughout the entire process and every aspect of governing the country in accordance with the law", and reconcile the Party's leadership in the rule of law and the National People's Congress' dominant role in lawmaking.
But the idea to prohibit the government from making policies that curb legitimate civil rights and interests, or increase civil obligations without authorization by the law is a true gem buried deep in the lengthy text. Confining government powers within the boundaries of law is a crucial step toward curtailing abuse.
Despite all the past swearing and posturing, regulating the government has remained a challenging mission, because by and large government agencies themselves have drawn the boundaries of their powers. Compiling transparent lists demarcating the powers and functions of government offices is indeed conducive to ending the rent-seeking phenomenon in public offices. But this, too, hinges on well-thought-out laws.
As the plenum document says, fine laws are a precondition to good governance. To produce fine laws, however, the national legislature must demonstrate greater competence and determination to cage government powers, starting from nationwide observance of the Constitution.
Like Bacon said, government misconduct has far more harmful potential than that of average citizens.
Administrative agencies at present tend to stretch their powers to seek narrow interests, which is a major reason for the extremely complicated administrative procedures, which, in turn, breed corruption. Whether the list demarcating the powers of different agencies can help change the situation will depend on whether related laws are passed and executed properly.
He Bing, a professor of law at China University of Political Science and Law, sina.cn, Oct 28
The power list system is expected to draw a clear line between administrative powers and individual rights, and prevent the use of such powers from violating rights. But a system on paper needs the help of the judiciary's rulings against power abusers to become good in practice.
Yang Xiaojun, a professor at China Academy of Governance, fawan.com, Oct 28
The move to demarcate administrative powers is welcome. But the authorities have to pass laws to clarify the responsibilities of officials and government agencies so that they can be punished for their wrongdoings. For example, the lack of a specific law has enabled many urban management officials to get just administrative penalty instead of being sued for abusing their powers and violating people's rights. This should change.
Yang Chengju, a professor of law at Anhui University, farmer.com.cn, Oct 29
Chaos marked the use of administrative power in many environmental protection cases, with law enforcers deciding at will whether or how much to fine a polluting enterprise. Law enforcement is a vital part of administrative power, so regulating it with the help of law will be a huge challenge.
Xie Zhiyong, professor at China University of Political Science and Law, China Environmental News, Oct 29
One of the principles of market economy is the protection of individual rights and property. Officials abusing their powers to blackmail, and even pillage, legal businesses neglected that principle, hurting the economic order and social justice. We expect the new rules to uproot this cancer from society.