What does the Supreme People’s Court’s new judicial transparency policy mean?

62bc75491cff95d15b4742e0c32268d9In late November (2018), the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued its latest transparency policy. The question is, after reading past the references to the 19th Party Congress and the ideology guiding this document, is what, if anything new does it require of the lower courts (and of itself)? And why? Decoding this document (Supreme People’s Court Opinion Concerning the Further Deepening of Judicial Transparency  (Judicial Transparency Opinion 最高人民法院关于进一步深化司法公开的意见)) requires some background.  The why is easier to answer (I have written about this in an academic article in the academic publication pipeline), but I will also explain the “what is new” and what it means.

Why?

As to the why, it appears to be linked to criticism from within the court system and by prestigious research institutes within China.  Some of the critics and their criticism:

In 2015, Justice Hu Yunteng wrote that judicial statistics needed to be made better and more transparent.  In 2016, He Fan, department head in the SPC’s judicial reform office, wrote “as long as it does not infringe the privacy of the parties, does not violate state security, the court’s data interface should be open to the community.” Local judges, too, are writing critically about judicial statistics, with at least one comparing unfavorably China’s practices with those of the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Judicial Statistics.

IMG_4136  The team of researchers at the Institute of Law, China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) evaluated court websites in this volume, advising the courts to “consider judicial openness from the viewpoint of public users,” and expand transparency of judicial statistics, devote manpower to updating court websites, and put some order into chaotic judicial transparency. On December 10, a team from the CASS Institute of Law announced the results of their third-party assessment of the SPC’s judicial transparency, the first time that the SPC had authorized an institution to do so, finding problems with compliance by some lower courts.

What does is the Judicial Transparency Opinion require?

The Judicial Transparency Opinion requires the courts to expand the scope of transparency while keeping secrets secret  It refers to two types of secrets, state secrets and trial secrets(审判秘密) (also called trial work secrets).

Expanding the scope of transparency while maintaining secrecy

The Judicial Transparency Opinion requires the lower courts to expanding the scope of information that they make public while keeping state and trial work secrets secret.  Although most people who a basic idea about Chinese law have heard about its broad definitions of state secrecy, that same cannot be said about the concept of “trial secrets”.  Although the general legislation on state secrecy has been updated in the past 10 years, it is unclear whether the same can be said of the specific regulations on state secrecy in the courts.  “Trial secrets” is a related concept but the relevant regulations appear to be almost 30 years old and do not define the scope of the secrets clearly. They include accounts of discussions of judicial committees, and “views from relevant units.”

What is required?

In addition to setting broad principles such as timely and substantial disclosure (research done at Tsinghua has found that some courts upload their decisions to the SPC’s judgment database months late, or not at all) and a team of leading scholars  based at several US universities that includes Columbia Law School Professor Benjamin Liebman found a “missingness problem” when looking court judgment databases), the Judicial Transparency Opinion sets out specific requirements on transparency. Those requirements are set out in seven broad areas in which the courts should voluntarily release information (except those where law, administrative regulations, judicial interpretations do not permit release information and other information that is unsuitable for being made public (其他不宜公开). The phrase “unsuitable for being made public,” is flexible enough to cover both the politically sensitive on a larger and minor scale. (For more on unsuitability, see the article that Professor Liebman and colleagues wrote).  The preliminary section also calls for the greater use of white papers and court gazettes.

The seven categories include:

  1. Basic information about the court
  2. Enforcement;
  3. Litigation Services;
  4. Judicial reform;
  5. Judicial administration;
  6. International judicial exchanges and cooperation; and
  7. “Team construction” (队伍建设)

I have selected some areas in each category where greater openness is anticipated (and included some comments in italics).

A.   Among the useful new items in “basic information”

  • institutional establishment (机构设置) (generally refers to internal structures–both the Chinese and English version of the SPC website have this);
  • Normative documents (规范性文件)–Chinese law does not require these documents, which are not legally binding to be made public, but they guide the operation of the courts–if the SPC makes more of these documents public it would be a service to all;
  • Work reports to the people’s congress at the same level (makes life easier for research seeking to access this information over time);
  • Other basic information that needs to be widely known in society (it should include information for the “litigant in person” (the person without a lawyer, but it doesn’t).

B.  On enforcement, the SPC direct the lower courts to gradually expand the scope of enforcement openness.  Matters on the 12-item list include:

  • judicial statistics (presumably to include greater consistency among jurisdictions, unclear the scope of the statistics that may be released);
  • enforcement procedures (unclear whether this is for parties only or the general public);
  • bankruptcy information (not much is being made public);
  • Annual reports on enforcement in different substantive areas;
  • Judicial big data reports.

C.  Litigation services

  • Litigation guides (see the Shenzhen intermediate court’s list–while a good start, they are not user-friendly (guide to criminal collateral appeals, for example): 
  • court notices and information about judicial auctions and other information relating to the disposal of judicial property (this could be interesting in corruption-related cases);
  • judicial services, experts, bankruptcy administrators, etc.
  • specially appointed mediators and mediation organizations; lawyers stationed at the courts, other volunteers assisting with litigation;
  • Channels for collateral appeals and petitioning;
  • other information relating to party’s rights in litigation and other information the public should know–again see the suggestion above (for Chinese litigants) and this blog has previously made for non-Chinese litigants and defendants as well (foreigners and others from outside of mainland China also need some easily understandable information about the Chinese court system).

D.  The SPC calls for greater transparency relating to Judicial reform so that the public will have greater confidence in it, including:

  • judicial reform documents (would make the life of researchers trying to assemble the judicial reform puzzle much easier);
  • Information on progress in judicial reform [unclear whether the drafters are referring to white papers]
  • Other information the public should know (that ideally should include statistics related to judicial reform, including resignations of personnel, but appears unlikely);

E. Judicial administration–The SPC calls for the courts to accept supervision by society.  The measures include:

  • Matters relating to societal interests and follow up from suggestions made by National People’s Congress/Consultative Congress members (it would be useful to know what percentage of court staff is “on the front-line” of hearing cases rather than being in an administrative role);
  • Technical standards.

F. International judicial exchanges and cooperation–increase exchanges and reference between legal cultures, create a good impression internationally of the Chinese courts, promote their international competitiveness, influence and credibility:

  • important international judicial exchanges
  • important international judicial conferences;
  • other matters that society should know about.
    No mention of lists of projects for which the Chinese courts would welcome international exchanges and interchange of legal concepts. No mention of how a foreigner would be able to attend a court hearing in China.
  1. “Team construction”–this term is a Party term (but the Party is in charge of cadres)–i.e. this section relates to judicial personnel
  • the situation relating to Party construction (listed first, understandable in the post 19th Party Congress era);
  • Personnel work (it would be useful to have a breakdown of the number of judges and other judicial support personnel as well as those in administrative roles, as well as resignations and appointments);
  • Disciplinary information (it would be useful to have full decisions published, as in other jurisdictions);
  • Training and education.

Other issues

The final paragraph of the Judicial Transparency Opinion calls for implementing measures and more detailed measures to be drafted and for measures to be put in place.  So it can be expected that specific departments of the SPC will be involved in drafting more specific guidelines (will that involve more specifics on the types of statistics on criminal convictions released)?  Once the national guidelines are in place, we can anticipate that provincial high courts (or their equivalents) will issue implementing documents.  It is only then that we will be able to comment on what the actual impact of this document is.

Law-related Wechat public accounts, 2018 update (1)

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 10.13.48 AM Wechat, as most people with an interest in China know, has become the preferred form of social media in China.  The legal community in China has taken to it too.

For the observer, it enables us to learn about new issues (or aspects of issues) that we didn’t know existed, and (depending on the topic), hear viewpoints other than the official one, or at least read hints of dissenting views. Those with the Wechat app on their smartphone can subscribe to these public accounts but it is also possible to find some these articles through an internet search. Note that the “Mr. Yong” about whom I wrote in 2016 lurks on Wechat, so articles published may disappear, although they often reappear elsewhere.

Some are official accounts of government entities, including the courts and others are public accounts (公众账号) established by companies, law firms, universities, societies, other organizations, or individuals. In November, 2018 the Cyberspace Administration of China said that tightened management of internet content producers would be a “new norm,: and Tencent reduced the number of permitted corporate public accounts from five to two and individual accounts from two to one.  More information on this development elsewhere.

Below is the first part of a guide to some useful law-related Wechat public accounts focusing on accounts related to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Please contact me through the comment function or email with additional suggestions.

The official Party and government accounts enable the user to keep current on the issues and latest Party and government position in that area of law–new policy, new legislation, and new reforms, or the official response to a current hot topic.  The Central Political-Legal Commission has one, the Central Supervision Commission, as do both the SPC and Supreme People’s Procuratorate, as well as their local counterparts. Academic journals have a different audience that requires more nuance.

As I’ve written before, Party/government authorities use Wechat public accounts to reach out to a public that is moving away from traditional media to smartphones. Party/government policy is encouraging courts to do so.  There is some but not complete overlap between articles that appear on an institution’s website and Wechat account. There is complete overlap when more political matters are involved, such as the latest important speech of a leader. Even some articles published in institutional public accounts may have a “netizen” tone and use netizen slang and images.

Institution Account name
National Supervision Commission 中央纪委监委网站
Central Political-Legal Commission 中央政法长安剑 (recently renamed, read here

Official accounts linked to the SPC

 linked to SPC and its affiliated institutions
Institution Account name Content
Supreme People’s Court 最高人民法院 Official view of SPC; also republishes Xinhua articles
People’s Court Daily 人民法院报 Official view of SPC; also republishes Xinhua articles
Institute for Applied Jurisprudence

 

(since July, 2018, under the new institute director, the account has published  fewer articles than previously)

中国应用法学研究所 Had previously carried accounts of conferences and academic talks, translations of foreign materials; other articles
China Applied Jurisprudence (academic journal)(from Sept., 2018) 中国应用法学 Publishes excerpts from journal articles (recent article included: article on people’s assessors pilot project; also republishes other articles of interest to editor; translations of foreign materials, including an excerpt from “Building a Diverse Bench” (NYU Brennan Center publication)
Journal of Law Application (academic journal affiliated with National Judges College 法律适用 Publishes excerpts from journal articles, some by judges, others by academics
Alternative Dispute Resolution Reform in China 多元化纠纷解决机制 Articles on alternative dispute resolution in China and foreign experience
Database Faxin (affiliated with the People’s Court Press) 法信 Case analysis, analysis of cases on specific issues
China Trial (journal) 中国审判 Excerpts from articles in the journal
People’s Judicature 人民司法 Excerpts from articles in the journal
Case Research Institute of National Judges College 司法案例研究院 Case analysis, excerpts from its academic journal (Journal of Law Application (Cases))
SPC Information Center 智慧法院进行时 Reports on informatization of courts
Administrative enforcement and administrative trial

 

行政执法与行政审判 Articles related to administrative litigation & enforcement

 

National Judges College 国家法官学院 Official account; articles reporting on the National Judges College &    its local branches
People’s Assessors 人民陪审 Articles related to the people’s assessor system & its reforms

 

Several SPC judges and SPC officials have Wechat public accounts.  They have obtained approval to have them.   Among them are:

Individual affiliated with SPC Account name Content
He Fan (何帆), head of the planning department of the SPC’s Judicial Reform Office 法影斑斓 Judicial reform
Yu Tongzhi (于同志), judge of SPC #2 Criminal Division, editor of 刑事审判参考 说刑品案 Excerpts from the journal, articles on criminal law and criminal procedure issues (some republished), including original articles by Judge Yu himself, generally on broader criminal law issues.
Wang Dongmin (王东敏), judge of the SPC #2 Civil Division 法律之树 Issues of civil and civil procedure law

As a general (but not directed comment), if judges on the SPC express views on issues that may come before them, it would appear to raise issues similar to those that arise in the rest of the world–the propriety of extrajudicial writing–a sample of writings on this issue from other jurisdictions found here. Persons who can provide relevant information concerning relevant SPC ethics provisions, and restrictions in civil law rather than common law jurisdictions, please contact me.

What significance does China’s updated court law have?

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main premises of the Shenzhen intermediate court

The National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee recently revised the Organic Law of the People’s Courts (People’s Courts Law, English translation available at Chinalawtranslate.com), the framework law by which the Chinese courts operate.  The NPC took the lead in drafting it, rather than the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). It retains the framework of the old law, incorporates legislative changes and many judicial reforms, leaves some flexibility for future reforms, and updates some of the general principles in the old law that apparently are on the dust heap of history (历史的垃圾堆).  Some of the principles newly incorporated reflect the reorientation of the Chinese courts, over the past 40 years while others represent long-term goals. Some provisions originally in earlier drafts have been deleted because the NPC Constitution and Law Committee considered that the time was not ripe for incorporating them.

The law contains some oddities, such as using two terms for judges, both “审判员” (shenpanyuan) (used four times) and “法官” (faguan)(used 38 times).  None of the official commentary has explained the reason for the mixed terminology.  My own guess is that it is linked to the use of “审判员” in the Constitution, but anyone with more insights into this is welcome to provide clarity.

The People’s Courts Law does not stand on its own. It is connected with other legislation, such as the Judges’ Law (amendments under consideration, with the drafting led by the SPC (this 2017 article criticizes some of the disconnects between the two) .the three procedure laws, the Civil Servants Law, as well as with Communist Party (Party) regulations.  As the courts are led by the Party,  its regulations also affect how the amended People’s Courts Law will operate when it becomes effective on 1 January 2019.

General Provisions

Some of the principles newly incorporated into the law reflect the reorientation of the Chinese courts over the past 40 years towards more civil disputes and an increasing number of administrative disputes, while others represent long-term goals.

Article 2 has relegated some of the dated language from what was previously Article 3  to the dust heap of history–references to the “system of the dictatorship of the proletariat,” “socialist property,” and the “smooth progress of the socialist revolution”). Those have been replaced by language such as “ensuring the innocent are not prosecuted,” “protecting the lawful rights and interests of individuals and organizations,” preserving national security and social order, social fairness and justice,  and the uniformity, dignity, and authority of the state’s legal system.

The principle of “ensuring the innocent are not prosecuted” makes its first appearance in the People’s Courts Law. I recommend this new article by a member of the Beijing Procuratorate, (in part) criticizing the poisonous effect of the “declared innocent” performance indicators of procurators on Chinese criminal justice.

On protecting the “lawful interests of individuals and organizations,” rapidly changing judicial policy and inconsistencies between criminal and civil law may mean that what is recognized as valid under civil law may be considered a bribe under criminal law.  Additionally, although the People’s Courts Law deletes language that distinguishes among owners of different types of Chinese companies, Chinese criminal law still does (see this chart setting out sentencing guidelines, for example).

Article 6, on judicial fairness, contains language on respecting and protecting human rights.  Foreigners may think it is directed at them, but it is more likely aimed at Chinese citizens.

Article 7 calls for the courts to carry out judicial openness, except as otherwise provided by law.  It is generally recognized that the courts are much more transparent than before, although specialist analysis in and out of China points out that there remains much to be done.

Article 8 incorporates judicial responsibility systems into the law (a prominent feature of the recent judicial reforms), described by two judges as the “sword of Damocles hanging over judges” (( 法官办案责任追究是时刻悬挂在法官们头上的“达摩克利斯之剑”) and a topic regarding which more dispassionate analysis is making its way into print.

Article 11 has important language about the right of the masses (i.e. ordinary people, that term is alive and well) to know of (知情),  participate in (参与·), and supervise the courts (according to law). However, the devil is in the details, as procedures for exercising these rights remain limited and sometimes lacking.

Organization (set up and authority) of the courts

Article 15 mentions some of the specialized courts that have been established over the last thirty years:

  • Maritime courts, legislation found here; translation of SPC regulations on jurisdiction found here.
  • Intellectual property courts, legislation found here, a summary of SPC regulations on jurisdiction found here.
  • Financial courts, see the SPC’s regulations on the Shanghai financial court.
  • The military courts still lack their own legislation (an earlier discussion of this issue is found here).

Article 14 relates to the special Xinjiang Construction & Production Corps (Bingtuan) courts  (not a specialized court under Chinese law, rather a court with its own special jurisdiction). Those interested can look to its NPC Standing Committee legislation,  SPC more detailed regulations, and Professor Pittman Potter’s research on these courts.

Article 16 incorporates the new China International Commercial Court’s first instance cases.

Article 18 incorporates the guiding case system into the law.

Article 19 crystallizes the SPC’s circuit courts (tribunals) into law (SPC regulations on the jurisdiction of those courts found here).

Articles 26 and 27 give courts some flexibility on their internal structure (courts in remote areas with few cases need not establish divisions, while large city courts can have multiple specialized ones. (Earlier blogposts have mentioned establishing bankruptcy divisions, for example.) Article 27 also mentions establishing (or not) comprehensive divisions (the administrative departments of courts, that according to a recent academic article can constitute close to half the headcount in a court and that some court leaders value more highly than operational divisions (the divisions hearing cases).

Trial Organization

This section of the law incorporates the current judicial reforms in several ways, including:

  • In Article 30, on the operation of collegial panels and requiring the court president to be the presiding judge when s(he) participates in a collegial panel;
  • Mentioning in Article 31 that dissenting opinions are to be recorded and that members of the collegial panel (or sole judge) are the ones to sign their judgments and the court is to issue it;
  • Article 34 gives space for eliminating the role of people’s assessors to determine issues of law, linked to Article 22 of the People’s Assessors Law;
  • Articles 36-39 includes new provisions on judicial/adjudication committees.  It consolidates current reforms by crystalizing specialist judicial committees (civil/criminal). An important reform is requiring the views of the judicial committee to be disclosed in the judgment (the view is binding on the collegial panel that has submitted the case.  These articles also include related stipulations such as quorum requirements and making judicial committee members responsible for their views and votes. (See previous scholarship on this important institution).
  • Article 37 incorporates into law previous SPC regulations on judicial interpretations, specifying that they must be approved by the full (plenary) SPC judicial committee while guiding cases can be approved by a specialized committee of the SPC judicial committee.

Court Personnel

This section of the law uses the terminology :”审判员” (shenpanyuan) and “法官” (faguan).  It also incorporates the personnel reforms set out in the judicial reform documents in several ways: quota judge system; selecting higher court judges from the lower courts; the roles of judicial assistants and clerks (changed from the old model); other support personnel in the courts; a new career track for judges, including judicial selection committees; preference to hiring judges with legal qualifications;

Article 47 requires court presidents to have legal knowledge and experience.  It has long been an issue that court presidents have been appointed more for their political than legal expertise. Under the Chinese court system, an effective court president requires both sets of skills.

It appears that the reform of having judges below the provincial level appointed by the provincial level is not yet in place,

Safeguards for the courts’ exercise of authority

This section of the law links with the Judges Law and the People’s Police Law (in relation to judicial police).

Article 52 gives courts the right to refuse to engage in activities that violate their legally prescribed duties (will this end the phenomenon of judges sweeping streets?);

Article 53 relates to reforms relating to enforcement of judgments (and the social credit system);

Article 55 relates to judicial (and judicial personnel training, both theoretical/(ideological) and professional)–some earlier blogposts have shed light on this topic.

Article 56 indicates that headcount for court personnel is subject to special regulation(人民法院人员编制实行专项管理, distinct from other civil servants.

Article 58 incorporates into the law President Zhou Qiang’s focus on the informatization (including the use of the internet and big data) of the Chinese courts.

Drafting process

The drafting process (the explanation and other articles have the details) reflects the drafting of much Chinese legislation (further insights about the process from Jamie Horsley here).  The SPC Party Group designated personnel to research specific issues and engage with the drafters. The drafting involved several years of soft consultation by the drafters of relevant Party and government authorities, plus limited public consultations. Among the central Party authorities consulted were: Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, Central Organizational Department (in charge of cadres); Central Staffing Commission (in charge of headcount); Central Political-Legal Committee.  On the government side: Supreme People’s Court and Procuratorate; State Council Legislative Affairs Office; Ministry of Finance, National People’s Congress Legal Work Committee. Investigations and consultations were also done at a local level.

Bridging Chinese academia & “the system” (updated)

Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 7.27.00 PM

President Zhou Qiang & Xu Jiaxin, former head of the SPC Political Dept, with SPC guazhi & other scholars

In a number of legal systems around the world, governments and sometimes court systems have institutions or practices in place to bring legal academics into government service and sometimes into the courts (and there are also professionals going the other way round). My former Havard Law School contracts professor, Charles Fried, illustrates that, as he served as Solicitor General and an Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  Similar practices occur in civil law countries–German law professors are often appointed to either the German or European judiciary.  This type of practice has the advantage of bringing some new thinking and ideas into the bureaucracy or judiciary, and for those who return to academia from government service, it grounds their scholarship in the real world. Harold Koh, of Yale Law School, is an exemplar, having spent almost three years as the US State Department’s Legal Adviser during the Obama administration.

What about China?  Chinese academics generally go directly into teaching without any experience in practice and when they advocate certain reforms, they may not understand the institutional environment (the “system” (体制).

Several years ago a system was put in place to bridge the worlds of academia and “the system,” that took one friend teaching in a Chinese law school into a local court, and has taken several others into the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). That system is the temporary assignment/transferred duty (挂职锻炼 guazhi duanlian) system.  I’ll use the term guazhi.

“temporary assignment” (挂职)

As I wrote in my 1993 article, the courts (including the Supreme People’s Court (SPC)) have long used the guazhi system.  Back then (and now) it is used to send cadres (of which judges are one type) to the basic level or at least the lower level for some “real life” experience (while retaining their upper-level position) and often is the prelude for promotion.  The system has finally caught the attention of political scientists outside of China, as some recent academic articles attest.

Under the guazhi program that these friends participated in, academics go into the courts and procuracy for one or two years, depending on the institution.  The basis for the guazhi system between legal academia and the courts and other legal institutions was originally a 2011 joint document between the Central Political-Legal Committee and the Ministry of Education, Some Opinions on Plans for Cultivating Outstanding Legal Talent (教育部 中央政法委员会关于实施卓越法律人才教育培养计划的若干意见). This document has been updated to incorporate the latest policies on training high-quality legal professionals in the post 19th Party Congress new era.

In October 2018, the Ministry of Education and Central Political-Legal Committee issued an updated (2.0) version of this document.  The guazhi system must have been assessed as worthwhile, successful, and helpful in training legal professionals for the new era because it remains firmly in place: “select core law school legal academics to go to the operational departments of the legal system for temporary assignment” (选聘高校法学骨干教师到法治实务部门挂职锻炼).

The full text of the document (关于建立人民法院与法学院校双向交流机制的指导意见), that the SPC issued to implement the 2011 joint document appears not to have been released, and it is too soon (as of this writing) for the SPC to have updated its earlier document. The requirements for guazhi scholars are clear from the notice soliciting applications. The small number of scholars posted to the SPC must commit for a two year period, may sit as judges (they are appointed as deputy division chiefs or their equivalent and confirmed and removed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee), must be recommended by their home institution, meet both (the standard) political and scholarly requirements, and be under the age of 55. They must work at least two days a week or at least 100 hours a year and may commit to the SPC either part or full time.

SPC guazhi scholars have included:

In the field of international/cross-border law, Liu Jingdong of the International Law Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Shan Wenhua of Xi’an Jiaotong University. A few searches show that Professor Liu, who was posted to the #4 Civil Division (dealing with cross-border issues) worked on some of the important issues that the division is dealing with: maritime law, arbitration, free trade zones, and Belt & Road. Professor Liu’s farewell to the SPC #4 Division gives a flavor of the issues that the division is dealing with as well as the long hours worked by its judges(and may go some way to explaining why guidelines on the operation of the China International Commercial Court have not yet been issued).

Criminal law: Lin Wei of the China Youth University of Political Studies and Lu Jianping and Liu Guangsan of Beijing Normal University. Professors Lin and Lu have both commented on death penalty-related issues.

Administrative Division: Wang Xizhuang of Peking University.

Judicial Reform and Research Office: Sun Xianzhong (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) and Wang Haiyan (China University of Political Science and Law).

The scholars are all from leading institutions and many of them have some experience outside of China.  Several of them were asked to stay beyond the original two years, indicating that they were well-received. The vast majority have been men.

The bottom line is–does guazhi work for both the institution and the individual?  In theory, guazhi in the SPC should benefit both sides–the academics, who generally lack practical experience, the SPC, by having another pair of senior hands to work on research linked to drafting judicial interpretations and other policy documents with some fresh ideas, including ideas based on research or experience abroad.

But it likely depends on other skills of the individuals involved.  Are the scholars able to adapt to the culture of the hierarchical Chinese court system?  Do their temporary colleagues help them to adapt or do they step away? Are they able to communicate with senior court leaders in the required language?  When they discuss cases, visit local courts or train local judges, are they able to leave academic jargon behind?  One knowledgeable person suggested that the best guazhi scholars are able to influence senior leaders in a positive way, bringing new ideas into the bureaucratic court system, while another noted that unless guazhi scholars work full-time, their contribution will be limited, as they fail to harmonize with the way the system operates.

 

Socialist core values & Chinese judicial interpretations

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socialist core values poster in a Shanghai hotel

I write on socialist core values and Chinese judicial interpretations with some trepidation.  Not because I have trouble deciphering socialist core values, but because the two documents core to the analysis are available in summary form only, as at least one source has mentioned that the SPC document is classified. This blogpost is based on those summaries, primarily on the summary provided by Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Research Office (研究室) head Jiang Qibo of its five-year work plan (2018-2023) to incorporate fully socialist core values into judicial interpretations (关于在司法解释中全面贯彻社会主义核心价值观的工作规划(2018-2023).)  in 2015 the SPC had issued a general document on socialist core values.

As explained below, it appears that the SPC is both “serving the greater situation” by implementing in the courts the Party’s plan to integrate socialist core values in plans to legislate and amend legislation(社会主义核心价值观融入法治建设立法修法规划) while at the same time seeking to deal with many of the difficult legal issues that face it.

For those unfamiliar with the SPC’s Research Office, (as I am writing in yet another academic article stuck in the production pipeline),  2007 SPC regulations place it as the gatekeeper for reviewing proposals, examining and coordinating the drafting of judicial interpretations.  It also acts as the liaison when other central institutions forward their draft legislation and judicial interpretations to the SPC for comments, coordinating the SPC’s response with other divisions and offices, with a knowledgeable person noting that “the view of the Research Office prevails.”

The critical language in the Party’s plan for the SPC and its judicial interpretations appears to be: “judicial interpretations should be amended and improved in a timely manner according to the demands of socialist core values” (司法解释,要按照社会主义核心价值观的要求,及时进行修订完善).  This language appears only in the SPC’s summary of its own plan and not in the earlier reports on the original plan.

The SPC’s approach to implementing the Party’s plan was to pull together all the demands on and recommendations to it to draft judicial interpretations–some in Party documents, others in recommendations from the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee (presumably its Legislative Affairs Commission), proposals from NPC and CPPCC delegates, a collation of proposals concerning judicial interpretations from the lower courts, plus  the needs of the courts (as seen from the SPC), and the SPC’s other drafting commitments.

The areas of law that Jiang Qibo are relevant to a broad range of persons, from commercial lawyers to environmentalists, to those interested in the rights of women and the elderly. Some involve new areas for judicial interpretations while others require expanding old ones.

Jiang Qibo classified the interpretations into five broad categories:

  1. The category of patriotism, dedication, and harmony includes the following (important) judicial interpretations. It appears the #1 Civil Division will take the lead on these, and I trust will engage in public consultation:
  • Amending those on the right to reputation and the right to honor to include better protection for heroes and martyrs (as to be expected and was flagged in a recent blogpost); See some earlier translations here on the SPC’s statements on the earlier heroes and martyrs litigation;
  • amending and improving judicial interpretations related to the Marriage Law and family law, etc.  I recommend this article by Professor Yang Lixin of Renmin University (formerly an SPC judge) for his forthright analysis of the state of Chinese family law and current important issues (children born out of wedlock, same-sex marriage, wills, surrogacy, etc);
  • improving the systems for trying family-related cases (Judge Du Wanhua is overseeing the pilot projects in this area); improve the legal protection of juveniles; prevent and punish school bullying, etc. (the SPC has been doing research on improving juvenile law and preventing school bullying for several years).
  • amending/improving labor dispute judicial interpretations (these fill in the holes in labor legislation)  As has been discussed earlier on this blog, the number of labor cases in the courts has increased.

2. The category of equality, justice, democracy, and rule by law:

  • Improve protection of property, especially non-public property, in criminal law. (See last year’s blogpost on this). Recent developments in China have seen greater use of confiscation procedures, and as this blog highlighted earlier this year, property protections are inadequate.
  • Improve the rules for trying property condemnation cases, to better protect the rights of those whose property is being acquired.
  • A judicial interpretation on hearing disputes over the use of personal information is needed (project approval for this has been given). Also work will start on a judicial interpretation on the protection of wild animals and protected species (see NPC Observer’s article on a related case), and the enforcement judicial interpretation is also to be amended (because of the SPC’s campaign to improve enforcement).

3. In the category of justice, friendship, and cooperation are the following:

  • an interpretation on self-defense (recently in the news in China in several cases, such as the Yu Huan case and a case in Kunshan);
  • also improving the SPC’s2016  policy document on judicial legal assistance (legal aid as arranged by the courts).

4. On setting out further details to the broad principles in the General Part of the Civil Code (also Judge Du Wanhua continues to be involved with this):

  • amending the contract law judicial interpretations;
  • amending the judicial interpretations on the criminal punishment production and sale of fake and shoddy goods;
  • amending the judicial interpretation on food and drug safety crimes;
  • criminal punishment of fraudulent litigation (just released);
  • rules on hearing cases in which the government is a contracting party, and issuing a judicial interpretation at an appropriate time.

5. On prosperity, creativity, and greenness:

  • amending the judicial interpretation relating to villages, to provide services for rural revival;
  • amending real estate related judicial interpretations;
  • amending finance related judicial interpretations, to ensure national financial safety and prevent a financial crisis (the criminal law in this area is quite unclear);
  • amending the judicial interpretations on bankruptcy law;
  • improving judicial interpretations related to intellectual property law (IP law), see more below;
  • amend the judicial interpretations related to environmental protection;
  • amend the judicial interpretations on maritime trade and other maritime matters.

On the intellectual property front:

  • The SPC will look into punitive damages for patent, copyright, and other IP infringement so that in serious cases punitive damages can be imposed and having the infringer responsible for the costs to the rights holder of stopping the infringement;
  • in the next five years, if the legislation is not amended it will work on using market value as a basis for damages;
  • it will work to better coordinate between administrative and judicial enforcement of IP rights;
  • it will work on guidance on civil cases that arise because of monopolistic conduct;
  • protection of plant species;
  • it will look into new issues related to unfair competition cases, also in trade secret  cases, and new issues related to civil trademark disputes;
  • research evidence issues in IP cases, look into having IP technical investigators involved in litigation;
  • research jurisdiction in IP and unfair competition cases;
  • look into preliminary preservative measures in IP cases (mentioned in an earlier blogpost).

The ones listed in the plan will be prioritized in the project approval process for judicial interpretations (see two earlier blogposts on what that is and the topics on that list)

 

The hunt for Chinese court white papers

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Winnie the Pooh & Piglet hunting for Woozles ©Ernst Shepard

In recent years, many Chinese courts have prepared and published white papers and research papers on specific topics with detailed statistics and analysis, a major step forward in transparency from the early 1990s. This blog has analyzed or mentioned several of them.  Many, on topics that include sexual assault on minors, real estate disputes, drug crimes, home renovation, and labor disputes remain to be discussed.  Releasing these reports to the general public is part of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC)’s efforts to promote greater openness. (Some research papers are for internal use only, but this post discusses only those cleared for public release). SPC President Zhou Qiang has mentioned increasing the courts’ release of white papers as one of the SPC’s many achievements in his reports to the National People’s Congress and its standing committee.  The efforts to promote the use of white papers date back to at least 2009 when the SPC issued a policy document on judicial statistics that stated:

Establish a public release system for judicial statistical data. Increase the publicity of judicial statistical information, hold a press conference to release judicial statistical information on a regular basis, actively explore the establishment of a white paper system for judicial statistics….

As those of us looking closely at the operation of the Chinese courts know,  court white papers and research reports are often based on statistical data from various internal sources and contain analysis by judges who have dealt with these cases.  Although these white papers and research reports are valuable for their statistics and related analysis, they are not always published on the internet, such as on the website of the court that issued the report. For the conscientious researcher, it is annoying  (not to mention a waste of valuable time) to find articles on court websites and local media reporting on the public release of a white paper or research report, but without a link to the full-text report.   I am facing this issue yet again in trying to do research for an essay (on a non-sensitive topic) to be included in a book edited by one of the members of the SPC’s International Commercial Expert Committee.

For example:

Tianjin high court’s 2018 Belt & Road white paper, report here 

As to why the full-text of white papers or reports are not published on the internet, reasons could include:

  1.  Anxiety on the part of the leaders of the court regarding the consequences of public distribution of these reports among the affected institutions, including companies, Party/government authorities, and higher courts (This rationale was advanced by an experienced judge whose court had not publicly released white papers until recently),
  2. Court leaders see the submission of the white paper or research report to their higher level court (or to local government) as having fulfilled their duty to have issued it and are not concerned about or aware that its public release is important.
  3. The court website infrastructure lacks sufficient capacity to host the paper.

For those courts with the infrastructure to host PDF or html versions of their white or research papers,  the Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xiamen maritime courts provide good examples–all post white papers on the front page of their websites (or on their Wechat public accounts), making them easily accessible to the researcher.  I would expect that Zhao Hong, the president of the new Shanghai Financial Court,  formerly the president of the Shanghai Maritime Court, would carry on the practice of her former court. Both the SPC and the Shanghai higher and intermediate courts have something to learn from these maritime courts (see this white paper hidden on a Shanghai higher court webpage), not to mention many other localities.   Many of the research reports prepared by SPC divisions appear to be published in division publications, such as Reference to Criminal Trial (刑事审判参考) or Guide to Foreign-Related and Maritime Trial (涉外商事海事审判指导). The Shenzhen intermediate people’s court recently issued a bilingual white paper on bankruptcy, seemingly only available directly from the court.  Why the court leadership required a bilingual version but did not make it widely available is a mystery yet to be solved.

 

China International Commercial Court & the Supreme People’s Court Monitor

IMG_3582I am prefacing this blogpost with a statement that nothing in it (or future blogposts, for that matter) represents the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), the China International Commercial Court (CICC), or its newly established International Commercial Expert Committee (Expert Committee).

As can be seen from the above photo taken in the SPC, with President Zhou Qiang, Vice President Luo Dongchuan and others, I was among the first group of experts appointed to the CICC’s International Commercial Expert Committee. Former World Trade Organization Appellate Judge Zhang Yuejiao and I were the only two women who attended the initial meeting on 26 August.  I’ll set out some comments on the Expert Committee and the initial meeting.

The Expert Committee is the first official SPC committee that includes foreigners and others from outside of mainland China, and it may be the first of its nature within the Chinese justice (司法) system.  The Expert Committee was established as a way to involve foreigners in the CICC.  As I wrote earlier this year, unlike Singapore or Dubai, because of the restrictions of Chinese law, the CICC could not invite foreign judges to serve on the court.  Among the 32 experts appointed to the Expert Committee include many leading specialists in international arbitration and dispute resolution, including judges, arbitrators, scholars and practitioners from inside and outside China.  The detailed rules on how the CICC and the Expert Committee will operate (and interact) are still being drafted.  The provisions on the establishment of the CICC anticipate that the experts on the Expert Committee will be able to mediate disputes and provide opinions on foreign law, among other functions.

The initial meeting was held on a Sunday morning, likely to accommodate President Zhou Qiang’s schedule or that of the other senior officials who attended the meeting.  SPC  newly appointed Vice President Luo Dongchuan chaired the proceedings.  Future events will reveal his relationship, if any with the CICC.  He had previously headed the SPC’s #4 Civil Division and was most recently the head of Xinjiang’s Supervision Commission. The senior officials who attended from outside the SPC included Mr. Xu Hong, head of the Department of Treaties and Law of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), several officials from the Department of Treaties and Law of the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), as well as representatives from China’s major arbitration institutions.  A large group of officials from the SPC also attended, seated in the row behind the experts.  The CICC judges sat separately.  President Zhou Qiang presented all the experts present with their letters of appointment, followed by speeches by officials from MFA and MOFCOM, and several of the most prominent experts on the Expert Committee, including Huang Jin, President of the China University of Political Science and Law, Sir William Blair, former High Court judge and judge in charge of the Commercial  Court in London, and Rimsky Yuen, former Hong Kong Secretary for Justice.

The remaining two hours of the meeting consisted of brief presentations by some of the SPC judges involved and several experts, while other experts provided comments.  Both Judge Zhang Yuejiao and I spoke.  My brief presentation was on “the CICC: An Important Step in the Internationalization of the Chinese Courts.”  I raised a few of the legal issues that I had raised in earlier blogposts.  I concluded by reminding the attendees that the CICC could be a great opportunity to train a new generation of Chinese international judicial personnel, and that I was looking forward to the CICC giving a chance to some of my students at the Peking University School of Transnational Law to intern there!