On 21 November 2017, the Finnish Center of Chinese Law and Chinese Legal Culture, with member institutions the University of Helsinki (Faculty of Law) and the Finnish Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy, hosted a bilateral legal seminar with six senior judges from the Chinese province of Yunnan. Yunnan is situated in the south of China and has a population of roughly 50 million.
The theme for the seminar was ‘Juvenile Offenders in China and Finland’.
The Chinese delegation was headed by Mr. Li Xuesong, Vice President of the High People’s Court of Yunnan Province. Mr Lu Xiaokun, Chief Judge of the High People’s Court of Yunnan Province, was also a member of the delegation.
The Finnish speakers in the bilateral seminar were Dean Kimmo Nuotio, Professor of Criminal Law and the University of Helsinki, Professor Ulla Liukkunen, Director of the Finnish China Law Center, and Professor Tapio Lappi-Seppälä, Director of the Finnish Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy. Other contributors included Professor Sakari Melander and Dr Yihong Zhang, among other academics present from the University of Helsinki. Both the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy are member institutions of the Finnish China Law Center.
During his presentation, Vice President Li underscored that the treatment of children and the centrality of the ‘best interests of the child’ principle are paramount. ‘Governments everywhere’, he said, ‘should take care of children and strive to create better conditions, including educational opportunities, to promote the healthy development of youth’. Vice President Li also emphasized that the treatment of juvenile offenders by the criminal justice system was an issue the Yunnan legal system takes very seriously. Yunnan province has advanced the protection of children in its criminal justice system in a number of ways. ‘For example’, Vice President Li said, ‘we are strengthening judicial institutions and training judges to better deal with juvenile justice issues…and constantly innovating to improve the treatment of children in the court system’.
A notable initiative by the Yunnan judicial system was collaboration with the Save the Children charity to ensure the protection of juvenile offenders and promote judicial diversion through inter-departmental cooperation and the establishment of a community support system. Begun in the Panlong District Court, this international cooperation spread throughout Yunnan province and then beyond. ‘After a long period of practice and exploration, this project became known as the ‘Panlong Mode’ and has had a great impact within the whole of China’, Vice President Li told participants. Overall, Yunnan province was experiencing a decrease in the total number of criminals, the total number of juvenile offenders, and the proportion of juvenile offenders.
Professors Nuotio and Lappi-Seppälä noted that while there were differences between the Chinese and Finnish approaches to juvenile offenders, the similarities in terms of underlying principles and many aspects of the treatment of juveniles in court were notable.
During his presentation, Lappi-Seppälä gave an overview of the ‘Nordic’ model of the treatment of juvenile offenders, noting that the state criminal justice system operates independently alongside municipal child protection services, with the primary emphasis in dealing with juvenile crime lying with child welfare and social services.
Professor Lappi-Seppälä noted that the criminal justice system and child welfare institutions operated under different principles. ‘Child welfare interventions are undertaken under the principle of the ‘best interests of the child’, Professor Lappi-Seppälä observed. ‘All such interventions are supportive and criminal acts have little or no formal role. In contrast, on the ‘criminal justice side’, specific penalties applicable to juveniles are restricted – but now expanding – and the general structure is as follows: diversion, fines, community alternatives, and the finally, custody’.
During their presentation, Professors Nuotio and Lappi-Seppälä shared a number of statistics about juvenile offenders in Finland. Of particular interest to the Chinese judges was the fact that at present, there are only five children aged 15-17 in custody in Finland, a figure so low that it also surprised those more familiar with Finland’s legal system.
The importance of the visit to Finland by senior judges should not be underestimated. The delegation visited Finland to learn from its experience because of Finland’s, and more generally the Nordic region’s, international reputation in reducing the total number and proportion of juvenile offenders, and to reducing to virtually zero the number of children in custody. As Professor Nuotio noted, the population of Yunnan province, at close to 50 million, was around double that of the all the Nordic countries together. Given the size of Yunnan province, even a small change in judicial practice, therefore, would affect the lives of a great many children.
Following the seminar, the judges were given a tour of the China Center Collection, housed in the University of Helsinki’s main library, Kaisa-talo. Special thanks to librarians Leena Huovinen and Eeva Henriksson for giving the tour and for their efforts in supporting the growing collection of publications in the Collection on Chinese law and legal culture.