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Tan, Carol G.S. (2006) Law and the administration of justice in the British leased territory of Weihaiwei. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The constitution of the British-leased territory of Weihaiwei (1898-1930) introduced a legal system which turned out to be too elaborate for the territory's needs; there was never a resident judge or barrister and most cases were heard and investigated by nonspecialist government administrators. With the exception of civil disputes between Chinese, the courts were to apply English law and procedure. Most accused and litigants, however, had their cases heard in accordance with laws and procedures which were quite different from those used in England. Defendants in criminal cases were tried by lay magistrates without a lawyer; rights in civil cases were determined by Chinese law; and headmen supplemented the police in maintaining order in the villages. When it was discovered that the appeals system had not been used, a simpler procedure was introduced. On the whole, the authorities prioritised the hearing of civil disputes, the involvement of headmen in law reform, mediation and law enforcement. In contrast, they were indifferent towards jury trials and lawyers, and reluctant to pursue reforms ahead of social change. Indeed, success in providing access to the courts for civil disputes inadvertently undermined traditional mediation. When it came to a social problem such as suicide, the authorities, though remarkably well informed about suicide amongst the Chinese, tackled only its aftermath. Although new, the legal system which affected the territory's Chinese inhabitants was not entirely unfamiliar; by their position and functions, the magistrates resembled the Chinese district magistrate; Chinese law was often applied; some civil and criminal cases were tried by headmen; and village regulations were recognised. It was a legal system shaped not only by the conservatism of individual officials but also by factors such as Weihaiwei's unpromising start, its subsequent decline in strategic importance, demography, shortage of officials, and lack of socio-economic development.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:00

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