Prosecutors urge more scrutiny of excessive fines

Updated: Jul 10, 2024 China Daily Print
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The Supreme People's Procuratorate has stressed the urgent need for legal oversight of "disproportionate penalties for minor infractions" in administrative law enforcement.

At a news conference on Monday, Zhang Xueqiao, the top procuratorate's deputy procurator-general, said that some administrative penalties imposed on small-scale vendors and micro-enterprises violate the principle of "proportionality in punishment".

"High fines not only contradict the spirit of the law and the requirements of fairness and justice but also harm the legitimate interests of the parties involved," Zhang said. "Procuratorates should conduct legal supervision according to the law."

In a case recently highlighted by the top procuratorate, a man bought a bottle of red wine for 78 yuan ($10.70) from a shop run by a 74-year-old man surnamed Zeng in Mengshan county, Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, in April 2018. He later claimed the wine was expired and demanded 4,000 yuan in compensation. When Zeng refused, the man reported the incident to the county's food and drug administration bureau. After mediation by bureau officers, Zeng paid the customer 600 yuan in compensation.

In July 2018, the bureau fined Zeng 50,000 yuan for selling expired wine and confiscated five other bottles. Zeng, deeming the punishment too severe, sought administrative reconsideration, but the county government upheld the decision. Zeng then filed successive administrative lawsuits, but courts at all levels maintained the penalty.

Still dissatisfied, Zeng lodged a protest with the regional People's Procuratorate. It then submitted the case to the top procuratorate, which conducted a public hearing in Mengshan in February this year that was presided over by Zhang.

On Feb 4, the bureau issued a new penalty decision with no fine and the confiscation of five bottles of expired wine.

In April, the top procuratorate issued a final decision to conclude the case.

Zhang said that while the original fine met the statutory terms under the Food Safety Law, it was clearly disproportionate to the violation.

He emphasized the necessity of exercising appropriate discretion to ensure the "proportionality of punishment" in administrative law enforcement.

Prosecutors have identified instances of "excessive penalties for minor infractions" and disparities in penalties for similar cases.

They have also been enhancing supervision of administrative litigation involving business entities. Utilizing big data supervision models, prosecutors have pinpointed such cases, particularly where individuals, despite facing unjust treatment, may be reluctant to seek legal recourse.

If these cases fall within the scope of procuratorial supervision, prosecutors will intervene to correct erroneous administrative penalties in a timely manner and minimize unnecessary impacts on the parties involved.

The top procuratorate launched a special operation this year targeting law enforcement and judicial issues that undermine the role of judicial authorities in ensuring a fair business environment.

The operation focuses on irregularities in law enforcement and administrative violations such as "severe penalties for minor infractions", "repeated penalties", and "different penalties for similar cases", and aims to effectively address the challenges and obstacles hindering enterprise growth.

The Supreme People's Procuratorate also plans to enhance collaboration and information sharing with market regulatory bodies and administrative approval departments to address issues like rule deficiencies and shortcomings in administrative law enforcement with the aim of promoting consistency and standardization in administrative penalties.

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