China finally starts to write a proper civil code

THE National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp parliament, wrapped up its annual session on March 15th. Usually its business is unremarkable. This year, however, a piece of legislation that was passed on the final day may prove unusually important. It is known by the unlovely name of the General Principles of Civil Law. It sets the stage for China to pass its first civil code, an overarching law governing legal disputes other than those involving crimes.

China has a civil-law system, which means that statutes are essential reference for judges. (In common-law countries such as Britain and America, verdicts are also decided according to precedent: ie, previous rulings by courts.) But under Communist rule, China has muddled through without a unified civil code. It has bits of one. It passed an inheritance law in 1985, a contract law in 1999 and a property law in 2007. But there are big gaps and inconsistencies. The Supreme People’s Court, the highest judicial authority, issues directives in an attempt to sort these out.

The country has been trying to write a civil code since 1954. But China’s then ruler, Mao Zedong, was…Continue reading

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