The Chinese government is making it harder for lawyers to practice law in the mainland.
They now must swear an oath of support to the leadership of the Communist Party of China, which means lawyers must first obey the state before deferring to the law and their clients.
The Ministry of Justice recently set up the oath system for new lawyers, Legal Daily reported yesterday.
The oath says: "I wish to become a lawyer of the People's Republic of China, and I guarantee to fulfill the sacred mission of a law worker of socialism with Chinese characteristics, be loyal to the country, be loyal to the people, support the leadership of the Communist Party, support the socialist system, protect the constitution and the authority of the law."
Since when did practicing law become "sacred"?
In any event, the All China Lawyers Association had put the oath system in place in 2000, but only now was effectively implementing it.
A ministry spokesman said the new system would help a lawyer "strengthen his commitment" to the profession and help "concretely elevate the political standards and professional ethics" of mainland lawyers.
The first group to be "sworn in" would be those who obtained their licenses to practice law in the last three months.
Veteran criminal lawyer Zhang Sizhi said the oath was just "formalism" and would not solve problems such as lawyers' declining morals and bad practices.
"The oath is just to further strengthen the guiding thoughts in recent years that the Communist Party will lead everything," Zhang said. "But as a lawyer, shouldn't one's first loyalty be towards the law, rather than a particular organization?"
Lawyers find this latest development troubling, particularly after the jailing of lawyer Li Zhuang who was jailed in 2010 for fabricating evidence during his defense of Chongqing crime boss Gong Gangmo.
"In the case of Li Zhuang, the Ministry of Justice did not stand on the side of the lawyers... and this has broken our heart," defense lawyer Si Weijiang said. "Like love between a man and a woman, in order to have the heart of a man, what you need is not an oath, but love and efforts."
The government is clamping down on every institution it can to ensure loyalty first to the Party, which only further illustrates its paranoia and insecurity.
And as lawyers know their way around the law, they could be a dangerous adversary to the government -- so it thinks.
Making them pledge allegiance to the state is an insurance policy of sorts, but in the end, the lawyer must follow the law, thus putting them in a tight spot.
Wonder what law professors are going to teach their students with this new layer of bureaucracy to contend with.