Chapter 2: Comparative empirical co-ordinates and the dynamics of criminal justice in China and the West
Criminal justice systems can be understood only in their wider sociopolitical context. At any given time, a criminal justice system necessarily tends to reflect the power structures which animate the state itself and, at least in liberal democracies, the broader values of society. Accordingly, it is necessary to see criminal justice systems in terms of their link to the state and the state’s historic role in the preservation of public order. Whatever the superficial similarities between law, criminal justice actors and criminal justice systems in liberal societies and those in China, the differences remain overwhelming. While liberal systems may fail to live up to their own rule of law ideals in individual cases or more generally at specific historic moments, those ideals give meaning to liberal systems and are benchmarks against which they may be judged. In China, by contrast, legal norms on the books are no more than pre-formed; law itself and the ‘rule of law’ ideal are subordinate to political forces; and public institutions which oversee the criminal process are merely creatures of Party-state authority.
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