Asian Law Center

Empowering Rural Communities: Legal Aid and the Rule of Law in Rural China

Our Empowering Rural Communities: Access to Justice in Rural China Project concluded in September 2010. Since 2007, the project has funded hundreds of new legal aid cases for rural citizens from Hunan, Inner Mongolia and Chongqing provinces and mentored and trained hundreds of local law students, lawyers, legal workers, judges and government officials. The project has also funded the first nationally available civil case Legal Aid Manual for China containing chapters on family law, personal injury law, labor law, land law and property law. Publication is expected later this year.

Project Narrative

Civil arbitration and litigation in China relating to land, family, labor and personal injury disputes are increasing dramatically. As the gap between rich and poor in China grows wider, rural citizens experience family, economic, and administrative problems but do not know how to implement their legal rights to resolve these problems. Legal awareness and access to justice in rural China matter more than ever because the Chinese government has embraced rule of law as a policy objective but faces challenges in providing legal resources nationwide.

Many donor-funded projects in China seek to strengthen rule of law by focusing on the supply side - the capacity of the court system to deliver independent, effective justice. Our project focuses on the equally important demand side of the equation: allowing rural citizens to access courts for everyday civil matters.

We targeted the delivery of legal aid in places where China’s system does not serve the rural poor effectively. We also aimed for sustainability. We partnered with provincial law schools to provide formal legal training for hundreds of lawyers, judges and legal aid providers, creating a new network of legal professionals at the local level. Training materials developed for this project will become China’s first Legal Aid Manual for civil cases and ADR.

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