BEIJING, June 24 (Xinhua) -- China's top legislature on Sunday started examining a draft amendment to the Law on Lawyers which aims to tighten deontology in the legal profession, make it easier for lawyers to meet criminal suspects and obtain evidence, and also authorizes lawyers to open individual law firms.
The draft amendment to the Law on Lawyers was submitted Sunday to the six-day 28th session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), or China's legislature.
Chinese attorneys have long complained of difficulties in meeting criminal suspects and looking up files and obtaining evidences when they defend criminal cases.
The draft amendment says that apart from cases involving state secrets, lawyers -- provided they have the requisite papers such as their legal practitioner certificate -- are entitled to meet criminal suspects in person once judicial organs have finished their initial interrogation.
Defense attorneys and criminal suspects will not be monitored when they have a conversation, the draft amendment said, and defense lawyers are entitled to look up all files and materials relating to the case.
Defense lawyers are entitled to apply to prosecuting organs and people's courts to collect and provide relevant evidence, and use courts to get witnesses to testify in court. Lawyers may collect evidence themselves, said Minister of Justice Wu Aiying, citing the draft amendment.
To protect lawyers, the draft amendment specifies that opinions and remarks made by defense lawyers in court -- provided they do not threaten national security or slander others -- cannot give rise to prosecution.
"Judicial organs that decide to detain or arrest a lawyer suspected of involvement in a crime related to a case before the court, must inform the lawyer's family relatives and his or her law firm, as well as the lawyer association within 24 hours," said Wu, citing the draft amendment.
The draft amendment also aims to tighten deontology in the legal profession, saying that "lawyers must not collude with the litigants of opposite party or the third party to cheat and infringe the interests and rights of his or her own clients. Lawyers must not seek to influence judges, prosecutors and arbitrators through unlawful means."
The draft said lawyers cannot be agents or defense attorneys incases which run counter to their interests or the interests of their family relatives.
Judges and prosecutors cannot be lawyers unless they have left their posts in courts and prosecuting organs for more than two years, the draft amendment said.
The draft amendment allows lawyers who have been practicing for five years -- provided they have never had their licence suspended-- to establish individual law firms.
Minister of Justice Wu Aiying on Sunday cited statistics showing that China now has more than 130,000 lawyers working in 13,000 law firms. In 2006 alone, Chinese lawyers dealt with more than 1.8 million litigation cases and 1.15 million non-litigation cases and provided legal aid in more than 5.2 million cases.
The Law on Lawyers was implemented on January 1, 1997. It is the first revision to the law since its promulgation.