North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has been awarded a $230,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foun­da­tion to sup­port a col­lab­o­ra­tive project with Xiamen Uni­ver­sity on the extent of legal assis­tance in lower court crim­inal cases in China. The two-​​year inter­na­tional effort will be con­ducted jointly with North­eastern crim­inal jus­tice researchers Phil He, Ph.D., and Asso­ciate Dean Jack McDe­vitt, Ph.D., with Pro­fessor Lanying Li at the Law School of Xiamen Uni­ver­sity, under the aus­pices of the newly formed Joint Center for Crim­inal Law and Justice.

During the two-​​year pilot study, the inter­na­tional team will gather empir­ical data to bench­mark the cur­rent status of legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in dis­trict courts in China’s Fujian Province with the goal of pre­senting the find­ings and ini­ti­ating pos­i­tive changes in the Chi­nese crim­inal jus­tice system.

Northeastern’s crim­inal jus­tice fac­ulty and stu­dents are leaders in pro­ducing social sci­ence research to ben­efit global com­mu­ni­ties,” said Joseph E. Aoun, pres­i­dent of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. “This grant fur­ther demon­strates the lead­er­ship of our crim­inal jus­tice pro­gram, which is a vibrant part of our aca­d­emic offer­ings. The part­ner­ship with Xiamen Uni­ver­sity will foster a global exchange of ideas about China’s crim­inal court system, which could have an even greater impact on the world stage.”

Existing research indi­cates that con­sid­er­able vari­a­tion exists in the avail­ability and quality of counsel across China. While there is one lawyer avail­able for every 281 cit­i­zens in the United States, in China, that number is one lawyer per 8,867 cit­i­zens, leaving many cit­i­zens, par­tic­u­larly those in remote areas, without the ability to obtain legal representation.

In addi­tion, China’s public defense system is not yet well estab­lished. Court-​​appointed lawyers are uti­lized only for cap­ital offenses, leaving many crim­inal defen­dants in first level courts without any legal representation.

The pro­tec­tion of human rights is part of the Chi­nese Con­sti­tu­tion, yet there is very little empir­ical knowl­edge on how such rights are exer­cised in the Chi­nese judi­cial system,” said Phil He, asso­ciate pro­fessor of crim­inal jus­tice at North­eastern and prin­cipal inves­ti­gator of the study.

The study will focus on the first level of trial court in China (known as the Dis­trict People’s Court), where a majority of cases are han­dled by a single judge (with two People’s Asses­sors) or by a group of three judges, but without a jury. The researchers will col­lect data based on court sum­mary judg­ments, sur­veys of Chi­nese attor­neys and obser­va­tions of selected crim­inal defense cases in a sample of courts from the Fujian province.

After the data has been col­lected and ana­lyzed, the inter­na­tional research team will con­vene a con­fer­ence with Chi­nese court offi­cials, aca­d­e­mics and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the MacArthur Foun­da­tion to present their find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions for follow-​​up studies and pos­sible reforms.

The goal of this research project is to con­struct a solid frame­work of infor­ma­tion and lay the foun­da­tion to inform leg­isla­tive changes con­cerning the Chi­nese crim­inal court system,” added He.

About the MacArthur Foundation

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foun­da­tion sup­ports cre­ative people and effec­tive insti­tu­tions com­mitted to building a more just, ver­dant and peaceful world. In addi­tion to selecting the MacArthur Fel­lows, the Foun­da­tion works to defend human rights, advance global con­ser­va­tion and secu­rity, make cities better places and under­stand how tech­nology is affecting chil­dren and society. More infor­ma­tion is avail­able at www​.mac​found​.org