A proposal for judicial independence from the state features in a groundbreaking plan for reform published last month by the Chinese government. The plan, to ‘separate the jurisdiction of courts from administrative divisions’, appears to be aimed at reducing corruption and improving the climate for foreign investment.

The plan also contains a pledge to abolish the punishment of ‘re-education through labour’.

In a break with precedent, the ruling Communist Party of China published the document only three days after its approval by a closed-door party plenum in Beijing.

Tim Clement-Jones, chairman of national firm DLA Piper’s China and Middle East business group, said the document’s section on the rule of law was ‘very interesting and could be significant’.

‘It’s a considerable cultural and organisational change but these proposals come directly from the president so there are good grounds for believing that some change will happen sooner rather than later,’ he said.

Ernest Caldwell, a lecturer in Chinese Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said the focus of the reforms is to make China more attractive to international business.

‘It’s about creating a stable economic platform for foreign investment,’ he said. ‘By increasing the independence of the judiciary it’s trying to get away from local-level corruption.’

Caldwell said it made business sense to increase the professionalism of the judiciary. ‘There is a greater understanding of how the economy can react with law.’

But he said the reforms are ‘not overly ambitious’ and it will be hard to gauge the extent of their implementation until the next leadership.

The Communist Party will also balance the benefits of having an independent judiciary with the threat that may pose to its power, he added.

Apart from hinting at a more independent judiciary, the plan also proposes making the judicial system more transparent, to ‘improve mechanisms to avoid false accusations and confessions obtained through torture’ and to ‘gradually reduce the number of charges’ that could lead to the death penalty.