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Floating courts bring rulings to rural areas

Updated: May 9, 2018 China Daily Print

A time-tested and enterprising concept is proving that not all legal matters need to be adjudicated in stuffy courtrooms.

A trial recently took place on a ferry on the waters of the Three Gorges Reservoir in Gaoyang township, Chongqing. Inside the vessel's cabin, 10 people sat upright, with all eyes fixed on a single passenger-a judge hearing the case at hand.

"Now the court is in session to hear the divorce dispute between..." the judge's announcement began.

The 10 by 3 meter cabin has become a floating court for residents and judges from the Yunyang county court. With a judge, court clerk, bailiff and jurors, the mobile courtroom is not all that different from a traditional one.

"Instead of going to court in town, now the judges come to us to hear cases. We feel more relaxed here and can gain a lot of legal knowledge in the process," said Wang Renfeng, 73, as he listened to the proceedings.

The floating court, initiated in 2012, was the predecessor of the circuit courts inaugurated by the Supreme People's Court in 2015 as a major step to advance judicial reform.

Now six circuit courts have been established, covering more than 20 provincial-level regions including the Tibet autonomous region and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

By moving the courts to farmlands, orchards and rivers, residents in remote areas can enjoy the same convenience as urban dwellers in dealing with disputes and legal affairs. Over the years, such courts have provided great flexibility and changed the way litigants and legal professionals approach cases.

Gaoyang is situated in an isolated area, and is surrounded by rocky slopes and steep ravines. Therefore, the waterway has replaced mountain roads to become the preferred mode of transportation among locals.

"There are more than 400 fishermen in seven townships under the administration of our court, and the floating courts are like mobile law classes that promote legal knowledge," said Wang Yong, a court official.

A total of 186 cases have been heard on floating courts over the past six years. Eighty-two percent-or 152 cases-were resolved via mediation. Meanwhile, over 300 legal publicity and education campaigns have been conducted on the water.

Ran Yiming, 64, said he now knows how to seek legal assistance after participating in the waterborne proceedings.

Wang Heping, a local resident said, "Such activities totally meet demand, and the judges are very patient in explaining policies and legal terms to us."

When the judicial officers finally returned to shore hours later, their shirts were soaked with sweat from the scorching sun. But everyone was smiling as both sides in the divorce case finally reached an agreement.

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