CHINA: NYT gets full access to China's courts

New York Times will be first foreign media given open access to study legal procedures

The Korea Herald
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

By Cao Li

A local court will grant journalists from The New York Times unrestricted access for four days later this month to study China's legal procedures.

They will be allowed to enter any courtroom and hear any case as well as interview litigants and lawyers a move considered unprecedented in a Chinese court.

A notice from the Shanghai High People's Court to the designated court, Pudong New Area District People's Court, however, did not mention how many journalists would attend or which cases they are likely to hear.

"Even though Japan's NHK and some other foreign TV networks have been here, their coverage was limited to certain cases or a specific category like a juvenile trial," said an employee of the Shanghai High People's Court, who preferred not to be named.

The visit is believed to have been approved by the Foreign Affairs Office of the Shanghai municipal government and the reporters are said to be from New York Times' Beijing office.

It was scheduled to start yesterday (Dec 19), but was postponed to after Christmas.

Fang Jun, a spokesman for the district court, told China Daily yesterday that it is the first time a Shanghai court would completely open its doors to foreign media, and added that court staff would accompany the journalists.

Most cases in the country are open sessions which local journalists can cover, but foreign journalists require permission from a liaison office to cover proceedings. Foreign residents need only the approval of the court to witness a hearing.

The New York Times, like most Western media, has been covering recent changes in China's judicial system, and in the past month it has published two lengthy reports raising questions about its fairness.

On Nov 28, it reported on a judge in Henan Province, who declared a provincial law invalid when it conflicted with the national law and almost lost her job because the local government was unhappy with the verdict.

"Things like that happen occasionally in the country's comparatively under-developed areas, but most judges follow the letter of the law," said Gao Xujun, a professor at Tongji University.

It is clearly stipulated in the constitutional law that courts conduct trials without interference from any individual, organization or government department, he said.