China Law Center Hosts Conference on Juvenile Justice
The China Law Center, Southwest China University of Political Science and Law and Shapingba District Court of Chongqing organized a workshop in Chongqing on August 29 to discuss pre-sentencing procedures in juvenile criminal trials.
China does not have a distinct justice system for juveniles. Criminal procedures for dealing with juvenile suspects are much like those for adults, with some special concessions. For example, by law juveniles are entitled to a public defender and investigators should generally allow their parents or guardians to be present at interrogations; prosecutors and courts have more leeway to release juveniles on bail and issue suspended sentences. However, such protections are not always honored in practice.
Led by the courts, the various criminal justice organs have been gradually developing specialized departments to handle juvenile cases, with personnel who are trained to work with juveniles and are aware of their special vulnerabilities and legal rights. This trend toward specialization has included efforts by courts to prepare social histories about the juveniles appearing before them so that judges have more information on which to base a non-custodial sentence.
The August workshop discussed the preparation and use of social histories, including who should prepare the reports, what information the reports should contain and the role the reports should play in sentencing. More than 50 judges, legal scholars and other experts attended. U.S. experts Robert G. Schwartz, co-founder and executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, and Judge Arthur E. Grim, senior judge in Berks County, Pennsylvania and chairman of Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission, introduced American practices, focusing on the role that pre-disposition reports can play in diverting juveniles to appropriate alternatives to incarceration. Katherine Wilhelm and Ned Levin of the China Law Center’s Beijing office also attended. Chinese attendees included representatives from the Juvenile Tribunal Work Office of the Supreme People’s Court and the Juvenile Rights and Interests Department of the Communist Youth League as well as judges from Beijing’s Chaoyang District, Chongqing, Chengdu, Dezhou, Fujian Province, Guangzhou, Jiangsu Province and Shanghai’s Changning District, where courts have been among China’s pioneers in using social histories in sentencing.