Candidates prepare for the national judicial examination on Saturday in Nanjing, East China”s Jiangsu Province. Photo: CFP
China is going to alter its national judicial examination to ensure the legal system secures people with a suitable education or working background, as part of broader changes.
According to central government guidelines, by 2017 judicial examinations will only be open to graduates who majored in law or people who have worked in law-related fields for a certain number of years. Accordingly, this year”s exam, scheduled Saturday, is likely to be the last chance for many to take the exam.
The reforms have led to a record number of people applying to take the exam this year. In Sichuan Province alone, the number of applicants surged to nearly 30,000, up 23 percent on 2015.
Unlike other exams, the national judicial exam, organized by the Ministry of Justice, is designed to bring all kinds of talent into the system, said Wang Xiaoming, deputy secretary general of Beijing Municipal Government.
“The quality of the candidates passing the exam affects the basis of China”s legal system,” he said.
Initiated in 2002, the national judicial examination has been dubbed “China”s hardest exam” as the pass rate is as low as 20 percent.
Many people take the exam year after year, in the hope of finding a legal job, and attendees range from 17 to 70 years old.
Figures show more than 4 million people had taken the exam from 2001 to 2013, but only 300,000 of them managed to enter legal professions.
Calls for change
Yang Hao, a law graduate with a master”s degree from Sichuan University, spends eight hours per day preparing for the exam, which covers several areas, including criminal, civil and international law.
“I”m confident I can pass it this time,” he said.
Yang failed the exam in 2013. In contrast, one of his schoolmates who majored in history – a self-described “law illiterate” – passed the exam after attending a cramming school that cost 8,000 yuan ($1,200).
Wan Yi, who used to be part of the team that designed the exam, said the current examination paper, mostly filled with multiple-choice questions, does not properly screen talent, as non-law majors can get a high score and pass the exam but still fail to meet standards required to practice law.
“It”s ironic for both the examination system and legal education,” Wan said. “The exam now tests one”s legal knowledge, instead of one”s comprehensive understanding of the law.”
Wang Song, a judge at a court in Chengdu, said incompetent legal personnel not only mislead clients, but also waste time at hearings.
“In a case of contract dispute worth 100 million yuan, a lawyer in court could not even distinguish between basic legal concepts … and he also did not remember related articles of law,” Wang said.
Accordingly, there have been calls to upgrade the examination so that only qualified candidates are picked for the country”s legal system, especially in the last two years as China steps up judicial alterations.
As requested by the fourth plenary session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee held in October 2014, 48 changes have been implemented, including litigation reform to prioritize trials, making judges assume lifelong responsibility for cases they handle and holding judges accountable for miscarriages of justice.
According to national guidelines released in late 2015, the new judicial examination will not only specify the qualifications of applicants, but also replace the current multiple-choice questions with more subjective ones involving case analysis to test applicants” understanding of law and capacity to apply it.
Other systems related to selecting legal professionals, such as pre-service training, judge and prosecutor selection, recruitment of public servants and legal education, are also on the reform agenda.
Tang Wei, head of Wuhou District People”s Court in Chengdu, said a judge needs to communicate with related parties, control the hearing progress and learn skills such as interrupting and stopping statements of parties at court if necessary. All these are absent at school courses, and cannot be evaluated through examinations, he said.
“From law students to judges, one needs far more than mere examinations,” he said.