BEIJING China will act to promote judicial independence over the next five years with measures including specialized tribunals for environment and intellectual property cases, state media reported on Wednesday.
President Xi Jinping's administration has sought to weed out corruption in courts, but critics say the ruling Communist Party pays only lip service to independence of judicial organs because courts ultimately answer to Party authorities.
The official Xinhua news agency, quoting a plan released by the Supreme People's Court, said superior courts will henceforth be able to set up circuit courts to handle complex cases as well as tribunals specializing in environmental or intellectual property issues. Current handling of specialized cases is often marred by lack of subject-matter expertise among judges.
The Supreme People's Court appointed a senior judge to head a newly formed tribunal in charge of environment and resources cases last month.
"The reform will be focused on efforts to remove some deep-rooted problems affecting the capability and fairness of the country's judicial system," Xinhua said, quoting the court document it said was issued at a press conference on Wednesday.
At present local officials can often influence court decisions in their jurisdictions. Miscarriages of justice caused by abuses of official power have stoked public discontent.
Xinhua said that trial judges' right to issue rulings independently would now be "further guaranteed". It provided no specifics, although it said judgments would no longer need to be signed by courts' chief justices.
Local courts' finances will be managed separately from money and goods they collect as litigation fees, fines and forfeitures, Xinhua added.
The high court document also addresses courts' budgets as well as selection of personnel. Special committees to choose justices will be set up at province-level courts, Xinhua said.
(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Mark Heinrich)