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Luke Meyer's Report from China Trip

Pre-Trial Detention Training, Duty Solicitors and Virtual Justice – China 2019

Between 20thand 27thFebruary 2019 I was flown by the Great Britain China Centre in London to China to deliver some training to China’s prosecutors, defence lawyers and police in the cities of Shenzhen and Hefei. The Great Britain China Centre is a non-departmental public body set up and sponsored by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to strengthen the UK-China relationship. They support policy and legal reform efforts in China.

I was extremely honoured to be the only criminal defence lawyer from England and Wales to be involved and to be given an opportunity to be part of great changes that are currently taking place in China’s criminal justice system.

Late in 2018 the Chinese government introduced legislation with a view to reducing their pre-trial prison population. This now involves, in the relevant pilot areas, the introduction of a quasi-judicial hearing involving a prosecutor, the investigating officer, defence lawyer and the accused. This takes place via a virtual link, with the accused in a custodial setting, and the key decision for the tribunal is to decide whether the accused should be released or kept in custody. This decision mirrors that of our own Courts’ post-charge decision as to whether to bail a defendant or remand them in custody.

Myself and one academic, Dr Tom Smith from the University of West England, Bristol were asked to deliver a series of lectures covering how Pre-Trial Detention works in England and Wales. We shared a stage with a leading Chinese academic Professor Chen Weidung of Renmin University in Beijing and a number of senior prosecutors.

I specifically, was invited to share my practice experiences of Pre-Trial Detention in England and Wales, as well as my experience as a Duty Solicitor as China has recently introduced a similar scheme to our own. I also was asked to deliver training regarding the use of virtual courts in England and Wales.

As part of the trip I was able to attend a virtual pre-trial detention hearing (in China called the Official Arrest Hearing) in the city of Hefei. My overwhelming memory of that particularly experience was being struck by the quality of the equipment and the level of investment in the infrastructure of virtual justice in China by comparison to our own. They use equipment with cinema-quality screens and sound, and a dedicated viewing area that felt as though all parties were in the room. A huge step forward in a few short months when compared to the sort of equipment used by our own virtual courts since 2009, where we still often cannot see or hear the other side properly.

It is very early days for these moves to bring their justice system closer in line to international standards of justice, but the top-down desire for change is palpable amongst prosecutors, defence lawyers and the academic world in China. The only voices of dissent to have come from some of the police officers that were present. I am very grateful to have been able to be involved in such an important process.

I am delighted to be able to report that the training was extremely well received by the attendees with approvals of 9.34/10 in Shenzhen and 9.23/10 in Hefei. Much time and effort went into my preparation of the course materials and the positive nature of the feedback is certainly very rewarding indeed.

Throughout this was a genuinely incredible experience and I am very grateful to the Great Britain China Centre and Renmin University for involving me.

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