Legal aid refers to the free legal service that is provided by the State. Legal aid is used to guarantee necessary assistance, such as legal advice, procuration, and criminal defense, to impoverished citizens and persons involved in "special" cases. Legal aid is an important project affecting citizens' well-being. According to China's Regulation on Legal Aid (hereinafter referred to as the Regulation) and the State Council’s provisions on main responsibilities of the Ministry of Justice, the administrative department of justice of the State Council shall supervise and regulate the legal aids of the whole country. The administrative departments of justice of the local people's governments on the county level and above shall supervise and regulate the legal aid work within their respective administrative divisions. The legal aid institutions shall be responsible for the acceptance and examination of legal aid applications, and for designating or arranging for people to provide legal aid to the citizens that are eligible according to the Regulation.
I. Development of Legal Aid in China
China started the exploration into legal aid scheme in 1994. The Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC amended in 1996 and the Law of the People's Republic of China on Lawyers issued in the same year included provisions about legal aid. In 2003, the State Council issued the Regulationon Legal Aid, forming the basic framework of legal aid scheme. The Regulation provided many issues on legal aid, such as the government responsibility, funding, legal aid institution establishment, scope of aid, organization, implementation and legal responsibility. In 2015, General Office of the CPC Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council issued Opinions on Amending the Regulation on Legal Aid to further improve the legal system on legal aid and facilitate legal aid in China. Currently, China has developed a legal aid scheme consisting of over 10 laws and regulations, such as the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC, the Law of the People's Republic of China on Lawyers and the Regulation, as well as a serious of supporting files. The scheme has played an important role in regulating the procedure and facilitating the rapid development of legal aid in China.
In recent years, China has been carrying out the Regulation at all levels and extended the coverage of legal aid gradually. With improving service quality and protection as well as improving scheme, legal aid institutions have contributed to social justice and the protection and improvement of people’s livelihood. Currently, there’re over 3,700 legal aid institutions and more than 70,000 legal aid centers all over China. In 2016 alone, they've processed over 1.3 million legal aid cases and provided legal advice to more than 8.02 million people. More and more people with difficulties have protected their lawful rights and interests via legal aid.