During the first term of the administration of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao , many legal specialists inside and outside China were disappointed by its tepid support for proposed reforms that would make the country's courts more professional and independent.
Noting China's ever greater need for a fair and competent judiciary, optimistic observers turned their hopes to the Hu-Wen second term. They reasoned that the more powerful and confident leadership would feel secure enough to establish overdue judicial reforms.
However, those hopes appear to be dashed. It is clear that a new, more authoritarian party line on the courts has been promulgated. The "Three Supremes", as it is known, was first espoused by Mr Hu last December.
During the National Conference on Political-Legal Work, convened by the party's central Political-Legal Committee that presides over the legal system, Mr Hu told the assembled judges, procurators and officials: "In their work, the grand judges and grand procurators shall always regard as supreme the party's cause, the people's interest and the constitution and laws." Like many previous communist doctrines, this "theory" is proving to be profoundly important.
In March, just after the National People's Congress confirmed the appointments of the heads of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) and the Supreme People's Procuracy for the next five years, the Political-Legal Committee, now led by the former minister of public security, issued a major notice. It required all legal personnel to seriously study and discuss Mr Hu's December speech and related documents. Since then, the new SPC president, Wang Shengjun, has launched a campaign within the court system to promote the "Three Supremes". His speeches leave no doubt that there has been a significant change in the tone and content of judicial leadership.