China’s top court confirmed Wednesday that it is imposing stricter limits on the careers of judges who resign, barring them from joining law firms for three years.
An official at the court’s political office said in an interview with its own publication, the People’s Court Daily, that the move is intended to safeguard the supreme court’s authority, as well as the public’s faith in the judiciary. Companies who hire former judges within the restricted period will be fined and ordered to dismiss them.
Recent years have seen an uptick in judges leaving the bench, citing a combination of high caseloads and low wages. Many find more financially rewarding work at law firms, but that career move will now be more difficult to pull off for former supreme court employees.
A former judge in eastern China who left the judicial system last year told Sixth Tone he believes courts nationwide will soon adopt the top court’s regulations. “Although the new rules make it more difficult for [former court employees] to hop to a new job, they also reduce the attraction of a job within the court system,” he said, under condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions.
On Monday, a document dated late last month that outlines the policy was leaked on social media. In addition to judges, judicial assistants are prohibited from joining law firms for two to three years, depending on their rank. Former employees of the supreme court are also permanently barred from representing defendants and litigants in cases handled by the court, the document states.
The political office official said in the interview with People’s Court Daily that the court had noticed former staff taking up work in which they frequently dealt with the supreme court. “They took advantage of their connections with people inside the court to interfere in the judicial process,” they said, adding that such behavior had damaged the credibility of the court system.
The supreme people’s court’s rules are an implementation of government regulations issued in May that said civil servants who resign may not take up jobs in sectors that formerly fell under their administration for up to three years. In addition, the rules state that former government employees must report their career moves during the restricted period.
Prior to the new measure, laws governing lawyers and judges included two-year bans on representing parties in court. In practice, however, many former judges were hired as consultants by law firms to avoid violating these laws.
He Bing, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, told Sixth Tone that the apparent goal of the new rules is to keep judges from leaving the courts. He argued, however, that they would do little to solve the fundamental problems facing many judges.
“Judges have to handle an increasing number of cases and deal with bigger pressure under the judicial reforms, but their incomes remain comparatively low,” He said. “It’s understandable that people choose to leave the system for a better-paid, less demanding job.”
The professor said that while the restrictive policies make it more difficult for people to leave, they also make it more challenging for the court system to recruit new judges. “If the working conditions for judges remain the same, the restrictions won’t make them stay.”
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Judges are sworn in at a court in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Jan. 31, 2015. Mu Ying/VCG)