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Shanghai finds balance on public info

Shanghai is bringing more transparency to its procuratorates via a “negative list” system, in a bid to guarantee the public’s right to know and protect the interest of litigants.

The list developed by the Changning district procuratorate regulates 34 categories of information that are not suitable for release, while any other information not on the list should be made public.

“Development of the negative list is to protect the victim, the defendant, the witness and juveniles,” said Liu Jing, deputy chief procurator of the Changning district procuratorate.

Classified information regulated by the list includes trade secrets, rape cases, cases involving underage defendants, and “information that may bring pain and pressure to the litigants” if made public.

According to Chen Ming, chief procurator of the Changning district procuratorate, only selected information could be made public in the past, and much of this information was passively released under pressure.

The Changning procuratorate has released 500 legal documents since a trial run of the “negative list” began in May. Four documents were decided not suitable for release after reviewing the negative list, because they might have violated the privacy of the litigants.

Shanghai was one of the five pilot regions selected by the Supreme Procuratorate in November to test the waters of further opening the procuratorate affairs. The Changning district procuratorate was one of the key experimental units in Shanghai.

The documents can be viewed on the Changning district procuratorate website. An information release website for the Shanghai municipal procuratorate will be launched in late August, and one on the national level is expected to go online in October.

“The negative list is a pioneering policy in the country, for it has brought down the high walls of China’s procuratorates and removed the mystery,” said Qi Yanping, dean of the school of law with Shandong University.

“It has the potential to spread nationwide,” Qi added.

The biggest resistance to more transparent procuratorate work was from grassroots officers who used to follow a “less trouble the better” principle, because they worry any improper release of information would put them at unnecessary risk, Liu said.

“The negative list has clearly drawn the red lines here and will ease the burden on these officers, and encourage them to be more open to the public,” he said.

“This is a small step for us, yet a giant leap for the establishment of credibility of procuratorates,” he added.

The negative list will be modified regularly in accordance with the latest legal developments, Liu said.