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Wuhan University Center for the Protection of Rights of Disadvantaged Citizens
August 19,2014   By:

On May 25, 2002, the Wuhan University Center for the Protection of Rights of Disadvantaged Citizens marked its 10th founding anniversary at Luojia Hill. Attending the celebrations were more than 600 people, including Executive Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League Sun Jinlong, ViceMinister of Justice Duan Zhengkun, Supreme People's Court Vice-President Wan E'xiang and Hubei Provincial Vice-Governor Deng Daokun.

Crowned with successes

The Center was founded in May 1992, with the purpose of extending legal aid to disadvantaged citizens including women, children, handicapped people and common people in administrative hearings.

"These people are in a disadvantaged position in market competition," says Wan E'xiang, Justice and Vice-President of the Supreme Court of the People's Republic of China who founded the Center. "Their lawful rights are often impinged upon in the period of social transition and there are not enough non-profit legal assistance organizations and the practical teaching in colleges of law lags behind. It is these circumstances that inspired in me the idea of starting a Pro Bono legal assistance organization with Wuhan University as the backing."

Over the past decade, the Center, the first nongovernmental legal assistance organization founded in China, has been crowned with successes, thanks to the efforts of Jurist Prof. Han Depei, Prof. Ma Kechang, Prof. Yu Nengbin and Prof. Zeng Lingliang and a number of young and middle-aged teachers and batch after batch of postgraduates and undergraduates of the University. Coming to seek legal aid are women, juveniles, persons with disabilities, senior citizens and common people involved in legal action against officials. With the help of volunteers of the Center, they have their jusdee done and their rights protected.

A typical case is Ding Yawei, a disabled young man who was forced to leave the university that enrolled him. It was autumn of 2001. Two months after he was enrolled in a normal university in Wuhan, he was told to leave due to his disability. He was perplexed for the disqualification and came to the Center for help. Xu Kangding, head of the Department for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, studied the case and deemed that the alibi of the university could not hold water. He cited the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities as saying that persons with disabilities shall enjoy the same right to education as normal persons and shall not be discriminated against. He contended that persons with double crutches cannot be banned from school. The young man can walk with crutches shows that he can apply his lower limbs. So he consulted the education bureau of Hubei Province, the Examination Board of Hubei Province and the provincial association for persons with disabilities. In the end, the Wuhan University of Science and Technology enrolled him as 2001 student on December 17, 2001.

The case had a chain reaction. 15 other students similar to his case got the right to education just as normal people.

Although the volunteers of the Center have changed group after group over the past decade, the Center has remained firm in its purpose. It helped many maltreated women to embark on a road of selfreliance, many children disabled by accidents to get due compensation, and blind people to get their own homes. The Center acted as an agent in the re-hearing of the case of a woman teacher who was disabled from serious injuries, a case that received nationwide attention. The case was later re-ruled as an intentional injury case rather than traffic offense and the defendant was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment instead of two and a half years as ruled in the first hearing. The civil compensation was changed from 286,665.11 yuan to 576,049.07 yuan.

The Center has received more than 30,000 clients and replied to about 20,000 letters, accepted some 20,000 telephone inquiries and acted as an agent in 1,500 law cases with a winning rate of 78%. Besides, the Center has launched a community and school education outreach program to inform people of their rights and responsibilities under the law through seminars, training courses, education pamphlets and booklets.

The Center has been cited on many occasions as an advanced unit by the State Council, the Communist Youth League and Hubei Province. It also caught the attention of NHK Television of Japan and Washington Post as well as scholars from the United States, France, Germany, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.

More legal assistance resources

The Center has reformed the education model and opened a practice teaching course. Apart from the traditional lectures, the Center pays attention to provide guides to students on the skills of acting as litigants, finding out evidence, collecting evidence, participating in negotiations, mediation, analyzing cases, writing legal documents and representing clients in court and at administrative hearings, thus enabling the students to know how to deal with judges, prosecutors, litigants and attorneys.

In providing guidance to students, the Center has adopted an interactive teaching method, enabling students to learn how to win the trust of litigants, judge the legality of claims, how to talk with litigants and how to obtain evidence or clue to evidence and how to correctly settle disputes.

During holidays or vacations, the Center organized students to spread knowledge about law in remote and backward areas, to learn problems concerning the protection of rights of people, especially those with special vulnerability, to carry out investigations on special topics at juvenile delinquent reformatories and work-study schools for juvenile delinquents and district offices for under aged people. The students have not only written many investigation reports but also published pamphlets and booklets for under-aged people to help them know the society, their own rights and obligations, the ways to apply the law. They also carried out investigations into domestic violence and proposed law against domestic violence.

The Center has not only become a pure pragmatic legal assistance organization but also a base for practical teaching in law, integrating its pro bono programs with teaching activities. Professors and scholars working in the Center have compiled a book series on the Theories and Practice in Protecting the Rights and Interests of Vulnerable Citizens, including On the Rights of Vulnerable Citizens, ABC on the Law of Protecting the Under-aged People, Selection of Comments on Cases Handled by European Human Rights Court, Collection of Legal Documents, and Protection and Relief of Women's Rights and Interests.

Since the founding of the Center, more than 500 students have worked at the Center as volunteers. The practice at the Center had stood them to good stead in their study and future work and they have become very popular among employing units.

Going with the times

The non-governmental legal assistance organization has provided not only legal assistance to the public but also training in legal knowledge material assistance and moral support, thus better carrying out the protection of judicial human rights and the rights and interests of people with special vulnerability. It has got the approval and trust from the public and has therefore become an indispensable part of the legal system of China.

Sharing this view are scholars from various parts of China including Hong Kong, and from Britain attending a forum held during the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the Center.

In China, they hold, it is impossible to set up a large number of public law service organizations like those in the western countries. Even the legal assistance centers in various places have to rely on the income of certified lawyers in their operation. It is, therefore, necessary to mobilize the social forces to make up for the resources shortage in society in order to meet the massive demand for legal assistance. The Wuhan University Center for the Protection of Rights of Disadvantaged Citizens has taken the first step toward this direction.

The Center has opened a website (http://www.cprdc.org) to try its non-governmental legal assistance network. By studying typical cases, it will provide a new platform for the people in all walks of life to support and participate in legal assistance.

Ten years ago, when the Center was just started, no one knows where it would go and whether it could be accepted in society. But today, the country has realized three leaps in legal assistance from non-governmental organizations, to state institutions and judicial assistance. The Center has succeeded in making the voices of vulnerable citizens heard in society and their rights and interests protected. It has really "propped up a patch of blue sky of justice for the vulnerable groups" just as Xiao Yang, Chief Justice and President of the Supreme People's Court, wrote for the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Center.