Amateurs court controversy

By Craig Mcintosh ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-05-30 07:43:28
Amateurs court controversy

Who needs lawyers? In China, passers-by are happy to help solve disputes

"Have you been injured in an accident that wasn't your fault?" It's a phrase you hear a lot on daytime television in Britain, where commercial breaks are filled with adverts for companies with names like Injury Lawyers R Us.

The so-called compo culture is big business, with claims for damages, even for very minor injuries, often running into the thousands.

So when I started watching Chinese TV, I was surprised not to see similar ads, though judging by what I've seen in the streets of Beijing maybe that's because if they did no one would get any work done except for lawyers, of course.

Here, such disputes are solved in the streets.

Instead of spending days arguing a case before a judge, minor accidents in China tend to be followed by the shouting of expletives and pointing of fingers until the "defendant"-or possibly the person with less time to argue-hands over a sufficient amount of cash for the "plaintiff" to go away. All this can be wrapped up in sometimes less than an hour, all observed by an independent "jury" of onlookers.

Going on my experience with the UK's small claims court, this way appears infinitely more efficient.

The most common accidents I've seen result in these skirmishes involved a motorist and a cyclist, usually after both have been competing for the prize of who can be most oblivious to the traffic around them.

When my wife began riding her bike to work-a good 40 minutes and two ring roads away-I knew it was only a matter of time before she would return with tales of collisions and near misses.

Inevitably, one evening she came home covered in bruises and with 300 yuan more in her pocket than she had left with.

"I was in an accident," she said, going on to explain she had been knocked down when a taxi suddenly pulled into the bike lane and the passenger opened his door.

"Are you badly hurt? Do you want to go to the hospital?" I asked. "No," she replied, "I didn't fall from the bike that hard, it was just a shock."

So where were all the bruises from, I asked. "Oh, they're from the woman who kept pushing me down to the ground, telling me to pretend I was seriously injured to get more money from the cab driver."

Her makeshift Matlock was a well-meaning, middle-aged witness who saw an opportunity to make a stand against errant taxis. Unfortunately, she was a little overeager.

To make her case, she demanded my wife lie prostrate in the middle of the bike lane and groan in agony, initially slamming her back down onto the hard concrete whenever she attempted to get up.

"She hurt me more than the cab door did. And she made me 30 minutes late for work," my wife complained.

Yet, judge by the results, I say. In the end, this ambitious advocate actually won her "client" a settlement of 300 yuan, shared equally by the cabbie and his passenger.

Not bad. Maybe I'll be seeing her ads on TV one day.


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