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It is an article of faith among China-watchers that what China most needs is not democracy but a legal system, preferably one like Britain’s. Two years ago, when I was working as a reporter in Beijing, the British government even brought over Cherie Booth to show off the British legal system to the Chinese.

The highlight of British Law Week (as this exercise was called) was a mock court in the basement of a luxury hotel. Rows of Chinese policemen watched as British barristers staged a murder trial to illustrate how presumption of innocence, a jury, cross-examination of witnesses and…

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