Professor Benjamin Liebman Delivers Opening Remarks on Rule of Law at Major Forum in China

New York, December 16, 2014—Legal transparency is a cornerstone of efforts to construct rule of law, said Professor Benjamin L. Liebman, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Chinese Legal Studies, at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Rule of Law Forum in Beijing Nov. 8 and 9.
“Transparency means the public and the media have access to the legal system during the legal process, not just information about the process once courts make their decisions,” said Liebman, the Robert L. Lieff Professor of Law. “It protects justice and fairness, and increases public confidence. Less transparency, less data means less information.”
His remarks followed the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Party Congress, a key meeting of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee. During the four-day gathering in October, Chinese leaders publicly committed to “comprehensively advancing ruling the country according to the law,” promoting government transparency, and implementing the now largely symbolic Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

Liebman, one of the world’s preeminent scholars of contemporary Chinese law, spoke at a conference hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on rule of law and how to achieve the Fourth Plenum goals. Speaking in Mandarin, he delivered the conference’s opening remarks and an in-depth talk on the importance of judicial transparency.

Liebman posited that the rule of law depends on the law serving as a check on power, accessibility of independent lawyers and the legal system to ordinary people, public trust in the fairness of legal institutions, and vigorous scholarship examining how the system actually works.

“The legal system must be able to protect the rights of the weakest members of society,” Liebman said. “Over time the ability of courts, procurators, and others to act fairly in [ordinary] cases is central to boosting public trust in legal institutions and thus is central to strengthening the courts.”

In his talk on transparency, Liebman discussed how American institutions encourage oversight and trust by making court decisions and documents public.

Liebman frequently visits China to share his expertise and research on specialties including Chinese tort law, Chinese criminal procedure, and the impact of popular opinion and populism on China’s legal system. Columbia Law School’s Center for Chinese Legal Studies, the first organization of its kind at an American Law School, recently celebrated 30 years of leadership (and founder Professor R. Randle “Randy” Edwards’ 80th birthday) with a special celebration in Beijing.