Public prosecutors are a key element within the legal complex, and crucial to the effective implementation of legal reforms. China’s procurators (public prosecutors) have previously colluded with local governments, police, and courts to “strike hard” against crime while overlooking systemic beating and torture of detained suspects to obtain confessions, shoddy investigative practices, and frequent miscarriages of justice.
However, fifteen sets of Guiding Cases issued by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate since 2010 promote an unprecedented change in Chinese procurator culture away from “striking hard” to substantive protection of criminal suspects’ rights and exclusion of tainted evidence. They reinforce criminal procedure reforms since 2010 by demonstrating how procurators should protect innocent people against wrongful convictions and police brutality. They also stress the broader duty of China’s procurators to uphold the public interest against corrupt businesses and officials, especially in food safety, land-taking, and environmental protection cases.
With other key actors in China’s “legal complex”—rights lawyers and civil society groups—still suppressed by the government, this effort to transform procurator culture is an essential, though still incomplete, step on China’s tortuous path toward a fair and just legal system.