The all China Lawyers Bar Association (ACLA) is drafting a revised ”Code of Conduct for Lawyers” and accompanying ”Punishment Rules of Lawyers Bar Association for Violations.” The drafts have been distributed to a small group of ACLA members to collect opinions and comments. However, some of the small number of lawyers selected have posted the drafts to a wider audience online, generating controversy within the China legal profession.
The aim of the rules is to ban lawyers from posting “aggressive or inappropriate” comments about cases, or attempting to use public opinion to influence the outcome of a case or to attack the country’s legal system.
Officially, it is said that the main objective of the two drafts is to limit some lawyers’ attempts to obstruct justice though exposing the details of a case over the Internet and though other media or by making inappropriate comments about a case or public events in the public arena. There have been well known cases in China in which public opinion expressed over the internet may have contributed to affecting the outcome of a well known legal case.
However, critics of the rules argue that the drafts lack enforceability. And others believe that the draft aims to deprive lawyers of the basic rights of a citizen.
On the one hand, restricting the voice of lawyers online may hamper the development of China’s legal system by preventing real issues from coming to the attention of the public. On the other hand, a system of mob rule, where laws are overturned by appeal to the mass of netizens is itself not conducive to the development of a system based on rule of law. Both regulators and lawyers have a responsibility to take both sides of the issue into account. Rules should be made to be as fair as possible, and lawyers have a duty to recognize that they play a special role in a society based on rule of law, and that they must always behave responsibly and in the interests of justice.