Prompt access to a lawyer is essential in criminal cases. To protect the right to a fair trial and to prevent ill treatment many countries provide detainees with early access to a lawyer or legal advice.

The Chinese Ministry of Justice has promoted the idea of duty lawyers since 2010. In August 2017 a joint opinion was published by the relevant ministries, but despite this a host of challenges have plagued consistent access to their services. Lawyers who have been acting as duty lawyers continue to report confusion about their role. At the heart is, how much assistance can they give their client. For the time being duty lawyers occupy an awkward halfway house unable to offer detainees much more than basic advice and help with applying for legal aid. Still, for the detainee the chance to meet with a lawyer should offer some comfort in what may be a bewildering situation.

There are, however, too few legal aid lawyers available to meet demand, especially in poorer rural counties.  Where duty lawyer services do exist, they often vary widely in quality. 

To try and ensure the provision of early stage legal aid is effective we have worked with Chinese legal experts to develop and pilot relevant training and have helped train 11 trainers. The training methodology and manual have been well received by those within the legal community and we hope they will continue to use and adapt the materials.

Image of Justice Bao from