In the judgment of a case involving the death of a teenage girl, a Beijing court sympathized with the sufferings of the victim's family. The girl was killed by a bus conductor.
It was the first time such sympathy had been expressed. Normally, judgments are delivered in a matter-of-fact way and in neutral terms. The judgment caused widespread concern and some controversy.
In the opinion of this writer, this change is of great significance. It is a breakthrough from the long-standing mistaken concept about the law and heralds a return to the correct understanding of the essence of the law.
On October 4, 2005, Yan, a 74-year-old university professor and his wife and 14-year-old daughter had a quarrel with a conductor in a Beijing bus. The conductor attacked the girl and she fell unconscious. The girl died in hospital the next day.
In May last year the Haidian court heard the case and sentenced the conductor to death with a two-year reprieve and ordered the bus company to pay the victim's family 100,000 yuan ($13,158) in compensation for "psychological suffering". Professor Yan lodged an appeal for more compensation, accusing the bus driver and another conductor of refusing to take the girl to a hospital and driving away leaving the Yans behind.
The Beijing No 1 Intermediate People Court gave the final judgment last week, changing the compensation to 300,000 yuan ($39,474). In a statement explaining the increase, the court said: "The Yans saw their daughter being killed; they witnessed the whole process of their daughter's death. What agony it must have been to watch a life withering in an instant, the life of a loved one."
These words expressing sorrow and anguish for a brutally deprived life are new to us who have been accustomed to unrelenting legal texts. The words are also a consolation to any person affected by the case.
For many years, our society has become more and more knowledgeable about legal affairs; but at the same time, our sense of justice and sympathy seem to have been eroded by subconsciously dodging legal responsibility and the true meaning of the rule of law.
"The law is merciless," is a most frequently quoted saying. It has led people to mistakenly think it is separated from feelings of righteousness. We have become used to the understanding that such emotions as indignation, sorrow and compassion should not exist in legal cases, especially not in judiciary and law enforcement personnel.
This is a misunderstanding. Judiciary and law enforcement personnel must have a very strong sense of justice to guarantee they work efficiently to maintain social justice and fairness.
Of course, they must respect the facts, be impartial and get rid of any possible prejudice when investigating and judging cases and executing laws. This, however, does not mean that they should not hold their points of view about what is right and wrong, and that they should be apathetic toward such things as crime, humiliation, and mental agony.
It is true they should not let their feelings influence the facts of a case or judgments. But they must have a strong desire to uphold justice, to punish the wrongdoer and console the aggrieved.
In fact, it is the lack of a sense of justice and sympathy for victims that some judiciary and law enforcement personnel have shown little interest in the cases they handle. They are not only failing to deliver justice but are also causing the public's confidence in social fairness to wane. And this is the most terrible thing that can happen.
(China Daily 12/05/2007 page10)