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China: New Measures on Certificates of Practice for Lawyers

(Oct. 23, 2009) China's Ministry of Justice promulgated measures on September 21, 2009, designed to regulate the way in which certificates of practice are issued to lawyers and law firms. The Measures came into force on the day of issuance. The new provisions consolidate rules on practice certificates for full- and part-time lawyers in mainland China and those resident in Hong Kong, Macao, or Taiwan who practice in China. They also cover certificates of practice for law firms and law firm branch offices. For law firms, an original certificate and a copy, with equal validity, will be issued. (The Ministry of Justice Issuing the Measures to Reinforce the Administration of Practicing Certificates of Lawyers and Law Firms , 35 ISINOLAW WEEKLY (Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2009), email from, received Oct. 11, 2009); Ministry of Justice Order No. 119, Measures on Administration of Practicing Certificates of Lawyers and Law Firms, Sept. 21, 2009, text in English and Chinese available from the iSino Law subscription database, Reference ID 76686.)

Under the new Measures, all the practice certificates for attorneys will be issued by the Ministry of Justice. Any provincial judicial administrative organ, or the equivalent office in an autonomous region or independent municipality, is authorized to issue a certificate within ten days of a decision being made to approve an application for an individual lawyer or a firm. (Autonomous regions are provincial-level administrative divisions of the country, established in areas like Tibet and Xinjiang where there is a large non-Han Chinese population. Several large cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, are administered directly by the central government, without being under the authority of any province.) The certificates will have photographs of the lawyer involved and an embossed seal of the issuing office over the photo. (Id.)

The Measures also include steps to be taken if a lawyer is suspended from practice or if a law firm has been issued an order to cease operations. Furthermore, judicial administrative organs are directed to compile an annual list of certificates they have issued, deregistered, replaced, reissued, annulled, or destroyed; the central government will compile the statistics on the issuance and use of the certificates. (Art. 17, Measures, supra.) The Measures provide that penalties may be imposed on lawyers or firms that fail to properly keep their certificates of practice in their custody and on officials who commit offenses in the course of issuing or administering the certificates of practice. The text states that if the “circumstances are serious,” then “the penalty corresponding to the offense according to law” may be imposed. (Art. 18, id.) The Measures do not elaborate on what constitutes serious circumstances.