BEIJING—In recent years, Chinese judges have regularly become the targets of physical assault. Among the most notorious cases that have made national headlines are a Hunan farmer who sent a package of homemade explosives to a court in 2005, killing one and injuring two others; and last year, a Hubei man involved in a labor dispute stabbed four judges.
The most recent case occurred two weeks ago in Beijing when Ma Caiyun, a female judge, was shot dead by two men unsatisfied with their divorce settlements, both of whom killed themselves after the attack.
While clearly condemning these perpetrators' unconscionable violence, we also ought to ask what pushed them to such a dead end, harming others and themselves to express their protests againt the system? If someone had been willing to listen to these desperate people, could violence have been avoided?
The justice system is considered society's last resort in resolving disputes. Nevertheless, the final settlement of a dispute is not meant to be a judicial decision of superiority and contempt for all; both compassion and respect for the rights of the weak should be reflected through the judicial procedure. As Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman philosopher, politician and lawyer, famously said "Let us remember that justice must be observed even to the lowest."
Yet, when a lower-court judge is obliged to handle more than 100 cases per year, we somehow expect that she or he has the time and patience to listen to every involved party's voice, let alone fully understand and respond to each. Meanwhile, for people involved who have a lower education level, their understanding of justice does not necessarily allow them to follow the esoteric reasoning of certain verdicts.
Moreover, in China today, too many judges stray from pure arguments based on legal precedent, and rely on their own personal reasoning and attitude, without the time or inclination to care for or respect the parties involved. Reducing judges' caseloads will not only improve the judges' situation, but will also improve the quality of their judgments and their social impact.
When there are too few avenues for appeal or ways to ease emotions, verdicts not only fail to solve the conflict at hand, but create new ones. When people are let down by justice, too often despair and thirst for revenge on society are all that is left.
We have to recognize that as long as poverty and social injustice are not totally eliminated, conflicts and confrontations will always persist.
Unfortunately, when addressing the tragic death of Ma Caiyun, a Supreme People's Court judge commented in an online post that, for their protection, judges should have the power in a court hearing to arbitrarily rule against those "who constitute the crime of disturbing court order," and in this he means specifically the defense lawyers. To mince no words, it is precisely such thinking, which opposes state power against individiual rights, that creates confrontation in a court and turns problems that could have been solved by law into social issues, sometimes explosive ones.
Defense lawyers help citizens to better understand and accept a court decision. At the same time, their professional knowledge and rational thinking allows them to communicate with the judge.
Suppressing a lawyer's voice means that an appeal by an involved party remains unexpressed. This is when things can get dangerous. China's Cultural Revolution showed what happens when lawyers are banned, for even the public security authorities were not spared.
Montesquieu, the 18th-century French philosopher, famously said: "Justice for others is charity to oneself." Providing better legal rights to individuals and their lawyers is the best protection a judge can ever have.