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Floating courts on China’s Three Gorges Reservoir

CHONGQING, April 16 (Xinhua) — With a gavel strike on the table, a trial opened on a ferry in the waters of the Three Gorges Reservoir region in Gaoyang Township, southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality.
Inside the cabin, some 10 people sat upright, eyes falling on the passenger in the middle.
“Now the court is in session to hear the divorce dispute between…” announced the judge.
The 10-meter-long, 3-meter wide cabin has become a mobile court for nearby residents and judges from the people’s court in Yunyang County.
With a judge, court clerk, bailiff and jurors, the floating court is no different from a traditional one.
Wang Renfeng, 73, attentively listened to the trial. “Instead of going to court in town, now the judges come to us to hear cases. We feel more relaxed at home and can learn a lot of legal knowledge in the process,” he said.
The floating court, initiated in 2012, was the predecessor of the circuit courts inaugurated by China’s Supreme People’s Court in 2015 as a major step in advancing judicial reform.
Now a total of six circuit courts have been established, covering more than 20 provincial-level regions including Tibet Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
By moving the courts to farmland, orchards and rivers, residents in remote and isolated 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 Township is situated in the hinterland of the Three Gorges Reservoir region, and local residents are surrounded by rocky hills and steep ravines. Therefore, the waterway has replaced mountain roads to become the main form of transportation.
“There are more than 400 fishermen in seven townships under the administration of our court, and the floating courts are like mobile law classes to promote legal knowledge,” said Wang Yong with the court.
A total of 186 cases have been heard at the floating courts over the past six years, of them 82 percent, or 152 cases, were closed with mediation agreements. More than 300 legal publicity and education campaigns have been conducted on the river.
Ran Yiming, 64, said he now knows how to seek legal assistance after participating in these activities.
“Such activities totally fit our demand, and the judges are very patient in explaining policies and legal terms to us,” said Wang Heping, a local resident.
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 achieved an agreement. Another case closed.

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