Law Enforcement in the Time of the Coronavirus

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China’s Ministry of Justice has released a major document on administrative law enforcement during the coronavirus epidemic. This includes not only policing, but also ensuring that administrative permitting and regulation can continue as normally as possible. Among the many interesting moves to facilitate law enforcement, three recurring themes stand out, giving a clue as to the Ministry’s priorities:

First, is its emphasis on ‘civility’ of law enforcement, with repeated recognition that public opinion and sentiments could be volatile during the epidemic.

Second, is the emphasis to use technology and online methods whenever possible; aiming for off-site no-contact law enforcement.

Finally, the need to consider both the epidemic AND the need to return to work and economic development.

Below is an overview of the Core Content:

I. Political Content

A. Political sections like this have been the first item in many recent coronavirus response documents. They emphasize the leadership of the central Party and government bodies; particularly Secretary Xi’s leadership, even calling for unifying one’s thoughts and actions with his important speeches and directives.

That they are placed at the front doesn’t mean it is the most important content, but is meant to indicate that correct political orientation is the key to all the other measures.

II. Content on Strict Enforcement: Stopping Epidemic Related Offenses

A. Calls for Strict and quick handling of violations related to the epidemic.

B. Highlights these types of illegal act:

This earlier document and others have also addressed these same offenses
    1. Resisting prevention and control measures, disrupting medical practice, and attacking medical personnel;
    2. Intentionally spreading of the novel coronavirus by one who is already infected;
    3. Exploitation of the epidemic for hoarding, price hiking, profiteering, or defrauding consumers;
    4. Illegal hunting, purchase, transport, or sale of wild animals and products made from them;
    5. Production or sale of counterfeit or shoddy medical goods, masks, gloves, disinfectant, and other products or materials for treatment and prevention;
    6. Causing chaos by creating or spreading rumors
    7. Using the epidemic as a pretext to collect donations, illegally misappropriating donations, or changing the use of donated assets without authorization;

III. Content on Regulating Law Enforcement: Restraints on Police Power

A. Make sure all departments stay within their authority and follow the law during epidemic work.

1. Ensure that law enforcement can articulate the legal basis for any restrictions,

B. Keep all measures proportionate to the type and scope of harm they seek to prevent; avoiding excessive impact on citizen and organization rights.

1. Absent special approvals, transportation cannot be obstructed with pass or card systems, roadblocks,

2. Absent special approvals, no blanket measures such as sealing off an area or forcing travelers to go away.

C. Lawfully and orderly promote business’s return to work, and do not improperly restrict or impact their restarting operations.

D. For requisitions of property, follow the principles of legality, necessity, and reasonableness in approval procedures and giving compensation;

    1. Requisitioned venues, equipment, and items should be registered and logged
    2. There is an obligation to protect requisitioned items, and then promptly return them after use.

E. Make procedures stricter with systems for information disclosures, recording procedures, and for reviewing the legality of major law enforcement decisions

IV. Just Law Enforcement: Stopping Uneven Enforcement and Penalties

A. Give punishments of types and degrees provided for by laws, regulations, and rules, to eliminate arbitrary law enforcement and unfair enforcement.

B. Comprehensively consider all circumstances of the crime in sentencing, to avoid uneven punishment in similar matters

    1. Enterprises and citizens from other areas must not be treated differently in administrative law enforcement.

C. Uphold the principle of combining education and punishment; showing leniency for minor offenses.

V. Civilized Law Enforcement: Winning Hearts and Minds.

A. Avoid escalation in law enforcement resulting from use of gruff and coarse manner. Never use pretext of law enforcement to take revenge, give arbitrary fines, punishments, and arbitrary apportionment.

1. Work on explaining the law to encourage cooperation.

2. Consider the public’s emotions during the epidemic, to avoid creating public discontent.

B. Consider epidemic prevention and control and big picture social and economic development in all administrative law enforcement.

1. Do not mechanically handle cases just for the sake of showing that cases are being handled.

VI. Innovative Law Enforcement Methods : Flexibility During the Epidemic

A. Adjust methods of government services for units and individuals to handle matters online whenever possible.

      1. Allow businesses to submit required reports online.
      2. For declarations, acceptance, and services in administrative permitting and licenses, use ‘offsite no contact’ methods such as online declarations, online reviews and approvals, and courier delivery of licences.
      3. If there are pressing matters that require on-site handling, reduce the duration of the visit as much as possible striving for ‘no contact’.
      4. Simplify processes, including making suggestions on procedures that can be repealed.

B. Be flexible with time limits:

For businesses and permitting matters:

      1. The period for handling permit applications may be extended.
      2. Where administrative permits expire and are being reapplied for, an extension may be given with the formalities to be supplemented after the epidemic ends.
      3. Where there is no way to directly submit required samples or reports, businesses and individuals may submit a written pledge of compliance, and supplement the materials later. Where it is discovered after the fact that false materials were submitted, related permits are to be revoked.

For Administrative decision making:

    1. Where administrative decisions cannot be made or delivered within the legally prescribed time period, the time for the decision or delivery may be lawfully extended.

VII. Strengthen Coordination in Law Enforcement: Keeping everyone on the same page and creating a unified front.

A. Form a joint law enforcement workforce to prevent lackluster enforcement, buck-passing, or delays in the implementing epidemic measures.

B. Responsibility for epidemic prevention and control law enforcement is with people’s governments at the county-level and above. Where two or more administrative regions are involved, the people’s government level above them both is responsible, or the people’s governments at the level above each relevant administrative region may take joint responsibility.

C. Basic level law enforcement forces should be integrated and coordinate

    1. when necessary may be used across regions, across departments, and across levels;
    2. Do a good job of information sharing and coordinated oversight so that there is mutual reporting of leads and outcomes.
    3. Strengthen joint law enforcement by departments such as for public security, health and hygiene, agriculture, market regulation, forestry and grasslands, and transport, to increase the efficiency and avoid duplicative law enforcement.

D. Improve links between administrative and criminal law enforcement, ensuring that the correct system is used.

VIII. Strengthen Oversight of Law Enforcement : the Administration of Justice

A. Judicial administrative organs should earnestly carry out administrative law enforcement oversight duties, coordinating on handling administrative law enforcement controversies and illegal law enforcement conduct.

B. Emphasize public opinion annd complete mechanisms for complaints and reports fully utilizing the current administrative law enforcement oversight platform for issues that are the focus of public opinion.

C. Every administrative law enforcement unit should publish channels for complaints and reports involving administrative law enforcement activities related to epidemic prevention and control activities, with dedicated personnel to promptly review and responded.

D. Private and public entities that aren’t administrative law enforcement organs, and their personnel for epidemic prevention and control, should be guided to prevent their implementation of excessive measures for epidemic prevention and control.

E. Where law enforcement errors or clear improprieties are discovered, order them corrected.

F. Explore the establishment of a case guidance system for administrative law enforcement. [Example cases used to guide practitioners.]

IX. Strict Responsibility in Law Enforcement.

A. Strictly delineate authority, with corresponding responsibility indicated.

B. Establish and complete mechanisms for investigating and pursuing responsibility for:

    1. lackluster or unjust law enforcement, or even corruption.
    2. dereliction of duty in perfunctory workstyles, lackluster implementation, concealing the truth, misrepresentations, and even obstructing or resisting epidemic prevention and control efforts.
    3. Where necessary, tranfer to the discipline and supervision organs for handling in accordance with law.
    4. Where crimes are involved, transfer to the justice system for handling in accordance with law.

X. Increase Protections for Law Enforcement.

A. Fully supply administrative necessary gear, including

    1. masks, thermometers, disinfectant,etc,
    2. funding guarantees such as for meals, night shifts, and transportation

B. Strengthen health inspections, operational guidance, training, and safety protections for frontline law enforcement personnel; and resolutely prevent working while ill.

C. Cracking down on illegal inteference with law enforcement duties, and preserving the authority of law enforcement.

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