Threat of lawsuit moves officials to act

Chinese prosecutors are playing an increasingly active role in urging poorly performing government departments and agencies to implement laws by filing lawsuits against them, according to the country's top procuratorate.

"As our supervision increases, most administrations, agencies and organizations can protect the public interest by regulating behavior and correcting misconduct," Zhang Xueqiao, deputy chief of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, said on Friday.

In 2015, a successful pilot program allowed prosecutors in 13 provincial regions to sue government entities that abuse their power or fail in their duty. The practice was extended across the country when an amendment to the Administrative Procedures Law was passed in June.

After learning of improper or illegal behavior, prosecutors are expected to alert the agency or department that a correction is needed. Later, they can take it to court if the alert is ignored.

"The move has encouraged us to play a stronger oversight role to ensure that local authorities do their job in such areas as environmental protection and food and drug safety," Zhang said.

From July to January, prosecutors nationwide sent 9,497 alerts and initiated 272 lawsuits, the procuratorate said.

The small number of lawsuits doesn't mean prosecutors have difficulty suing, prosecutor Hu Weilie said. "Instead, it proves that our alerts have worked."

For example, about 92 percent of government departments in Shandong province rectified misconduct quickly after being alerted, "which showed they realized they were wrong and responded to pressure from us," Hu said.

"The alerts serve to urge government departments and agencies to enforce the law. And they save judicial resources. Our aim is to prevent the public interest from being further harmed, rather than taking them to court."

Thanks to the alerts, more than 1,451 polluters rectified problems in a timely manner, while polluted waters having a surface area of more than 284 square kilometers were restored, the procuratorate said in a statement.

Based on the success of the approach, a judicial interpretation on how to handle public interest lawsuits was unveiled on Friday in which government departments were ordered to respond or make corrections within two months of receiving an alert from prosecutors.


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