Decades after Jiang Zemin's endorsement of the rule of law as a basic strategy for running the country in 1997, the Chinese Communist Party, at this year's annual Central Committee Plenum, underlined a new enthusiasm for the rule of law. The four-day event, which ended on 23 October 2014, culminated in the Committee issuing a Decision on Several Important Matters intended to promote rule-based order across China. Whilst the origin of this re-emphasis on the rule of law is most likely the Communist Party's ongoing anti-corruption campaign, it facilitates the launch of a series of reform measures in a much wider variety of areas of legislation, enforcement and government administration.

The highlights of the Decision are:

  • 12 December is the date set as the annual “National Constitution Day”. Officials will now have to swear loyalty to China’s constitution and schools are required to teach pupils of its importance;
  • legislation regulating social responsibilities will be strengthened;
  • a civil code will be drafted. Currently civil matters are regulated in a sporadic way under the general principles of Civil Law, Contract Law, the Law of Tort, etc., so the drafting of a civil code will be a significant departure from current practice;
  • the rules on property rights will be reviewed to better encourage innovation, protect intellectual property and introduce systems for promoting the exploitation of scientific and technological achievements;
  • laws and regulations in respect of finance and tax, banking, investment administration, land administration, energy and mine resources and agriculture are to be formulated and/or reinforced;
  • legislation relating to the internet is to be strengthened, and laws and regulations concerning internet information services, internet security and internet society administration are to be improved;
  • the introduction of anti-corruption legislation, broadening the definition of bribery crime, is to be accelerated;
  • awareness of the governments' list of powers is to be promoted within government and amongst the public;
  • the Supreme People's Court will set up circuit courts to hear major administrative, civil and corporate cases across administrative regions;
  • the country will trial cross-administrative region courts and procuratorates (bodies responsible for bringing prosecutions and carrying out investigations of certain cases) for cases across administrative regions; and
  • court acceptance rules are to be reformed so as to better protect citizens' procedural rights.