Comments on China’s international commercial courts

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photo from the First International Commercial Court’s opening ceremony (the grey suits are the new court summer uniforms)

At the end of June, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) held ceremonies to mark the establishment of its international commercial tribunals (国际商事法庭)(this post will use the phrase “international commercial court,” or “CICC” as the official media are using both terms). The provisions establishing the international commercial courts went into effect on July 1. As I wrote earlier this year,  political and technical requirements shaped the CICC, as will be explained below.

These (partial) comments do not set out an overview of the court, as that has already been done by several law firms (and there are likely to be more), including Zhong Lun (published on the Kluwer Arbitration blog) and Herbert Smith Freehills.

Comments

In my view, those drafting the structure of the CICC were constrained by Chinese law, the nature of the Chinese court system and related regulatory systems. Although some Chinese commentators have referred to the CICC privately as a “mini-circuit court,” the CICC incorporates innovations, some of which have not been recognized by commentators thus far and provisions from the latest round of judicial reforms. The brief judicial interpretation establishing the CICC leaves related questions unanswered, some of which I will raise below.  I expect some of those questions to be gradually answered as regulations underpinning the CICC are issued.

The small team of judges and limited jurisdiction of the court are likely to mean that overall trends in Belt & Road dispute resolution are unlikely to be significantly affected by its establishment.  As a court focused on international commercial issues staffed by some of China’s most knowledgeable judges in that area, the court is likely to have a positive effect on the competence of the Chinese judiciary regarding international trade and investment issues, particularly as the SPC leadership knows that the international legal community is monitoring the court’s operation.  It is unclear from recent reports whether the SPC will allocate additional resources to support its operation, which to this outside observer would be a shortsighted approach to take, as even something as apparently simple as translating judgments into English (as appears to be the intention of the court) is time-consuming.

Structure of the court

From Judge Gao’s press interview earlier this year (the subject of that earlier blogpost, a full English translation of which is found on the CICC website,) it is clear that she and her other colleagues involved in drafting the judicial interpretation were well aware of international commercial courts that had been or were being established elsewhere in the world.  This research was provided by the China Institute for Applied Jurisprudence, the SPC’s in-house think tank (briefly described in this earlier blogpost).

However, the political imperatives of establishing the CICC as a priority matter meant that the SPC was constrained by the realities of current Chinese law.  Because judicial interpretations of the SPC cannot contravene the civil procedure, judges and other national law (National People’s Congress legislation) [and there appeared to be insufficient time and possibly appetite for promulgating legislation piloting exceptions to these provisions]. This meant that the language of the court could not be English, the procedural law had to be Chinese civil procedure law, and the judges had to be judges so qualified under current Chinese law.

Jurisdiction of the court

As has explained elsewhere, under Article 2 of its Provisions, the CICC has jurisdiction over five types of cases, three of which are rather flexible (cases under a higher people’s court jurisdiction that it applies to have the SPC hear; first instance international commercial cases that have a nationwide significant impact; any other international commercial cases that the SPC considers appropriate to be tried by the CICC).  This enables the CICC to control its caseload, as the eight judges on the CICC are likely to have their existing caseload in the SPC division or circuit court in which they are working, plus major obligations in drafting judicial interpretation or analogous judicial guidance.  I am personally unaware of cases in which a higher people’s court has required the SPC to hear a case within its jurisdiction (please contact me if you have such information) but it can be anticipated that a higher people’s court may prefer to rid itself of a difficult case (either legally or more likely institutionally) to avoid a mistaken decision.

Judges of the court

As has been noted elsewhere, the eight judges appointed to the CICC are all SPC judges, although Article 4 of the CICC provisions appears to permit qualified judges from the lower courts to be selected.  Those provisions do not mention whether a selection committee (one of the current judicial reforms) was used to select the current CICC judges, or whether a selection committee will be used for future appointments.  There are in fact experienced judges in some of the lower courts who are able to use English as a working language.  However, the exigencies of needing to appoint judges in a brief period of time (and possible SPC headcount restrictions, after the SPC has cut headcount under the quota judge system) meant that all CICC judges are from the SPC.  This means a number of judges are relatively junior.

Expert committee

The expert committee to be established (rules yet to be issued) is an innovation under Chinese court practice.  Unlike many other major jurisdictions, the Chinese courts lack user committees or advisory committees.  This could be a useful way of bringing international input before the Chinese courts in a formal way. although the usefulness of the institution may depend on how often the committee meets and how familiar its members are with the Chinese court system.  Presumably acting as a mediator or providing an expert opinion on a matter of foreign law will be optional (further details to be revealed when those rules are issued).  Some persons may prefer to provide general advice to the SPC rather than involve themselves in the specifics of a particular dispute.

Evidence before the court

The CICC will not require translations into Chinese of evidence, if the parties so agree, or require evidence to be notarlized and legalized. As I wrote previously,  China has not yet acceded to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documentsso in Chinese court litigation, notarization and legalization of documents is often required., starting when a party files suit or when a foreign party responds. It is not clear whether the CICC will require notarization and legalization of foreign party authorization of counsel.  It is an innovation possible within the constraints of current law, that the CICC will consider evidence even if evidence from outside of China has not been notarized and legalized. Notarization and legalization costs time and money and a great deal of effort. It is understood that China is considering acceding to the Hague Legalization Convention.

Mediation and arbitration linking mechanism

The mechanism to link mediation, arbitration and litigation is an important part of the judicial reform measures (mentioned in this blogpost on diversified dispute resolution).  Which mediation and arbitration institutions will link to the CICC are unclear (and the rules for selecting those institutions), but the policy document underpinning the CICC refers to domestic rather than foreign or greater China institutions.  The Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration and Hong Kong Mediation Centre have entered into a cooperative arrangement to enable cross-border enforcement of mediation agreements, so presumably, this is a model that can be followed for Hong Kong.

Enforcement

The CICC provisions do not add new content on the enforcement of their judgments. As this earlier blogpost mentioned, enforcement of its own (and that of Chinese lower courts abroad) and foreign court judgments in China is on the SPC’s agenda.  As I have written (and spoken about) previously, China (with SPC participation in its delegation) has been taking an actively part in negotiations on the Hague Convention on the Recognition & Enforcement of Foreign Judgments, (the link includes the draft convention) and has signed but not yet ratified the Hague Convention on the Choice of Courts Agreements.

Borrowing beneficial ideas from abroad

It appears that the drafters of the CICC provisions considered some of the practices of Frankfurt High Court International Commercial Chamber in their draft: No translation of documents which are drafted in the English language (if there is consent); witnesses can be heard in English;and extensive use of video conferencing or other electronic means.

Some outstanding questions

  1. Will the mediation and arbitration linking mechanism be able to link with jurisdictions outside of mainland China?  Under Chinese law, preliminary measures (interim measures) such as injunctions, property or evidence preservation are not available for offshore arbitration. Will the CICC mechanism be able to change this, or will changes to current law be required, as seems more likely?
  2. Will difficult issues before the CICC be referred to the SPC’s judicial committee or other institutions within the SPC?  As I wrote about a year ago, the SPC has adopted new judicial responsibility rules, setting out guidance under which cases heard by a collegiate panel are referred to a professional judges committee or the SPC’s judicial committee.  Query whether difficult cases that have been discussed by the entire body of CICC judges will be referred further. The CICC includes several of the SPC’s most knowledgeable judges on cross-border matters (as well as the head  (chief judge) and deputy heads of the #4 Civil Division, the division focusing on cross-border/international matters).  These details are likely to be worked out over time.
  3. Will the two CICC courts have their own support staff?  Will it have its own case acceptance office?  Is the intention to give more work to existing staff, or will there be an increase in headcount to support the new institution?  The CICC judges need resources to support their work, whether it be in translation or research assistance.  If the consequence of the establishment of the CICC is to give additional work to existing personnel, it is not out of the question that someone involved may collapse from overwork.  SPC President Zhou Qiang noted in his most recent report to the NPC that there have been deaths from overwork in the lower courts. Some of the Chinese courts’ most experienced and knowledgeable judges in the area of cross-border commercial law have been appointed to the court.

Concluding Comments

The establishment of the court and its English language website gives foreign outside observers a chance to monitor how a Chinese court deals with and decides commercial cases, creating even greater pressure on the SPC and a small team of its most competent international commercial judges.

In my view, the establishment of the CICC will not affect how highly sophisticated lawyers draft dispute resolution clauses for large-scale Belt & Road projects. Many of those lawyers will still draft clauses providing for offshore arbitration because of the New York Convention (and the corresponding arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland) and some concern about Chinese arbitration institutions.  I have personally found it is difficult to get an accurate grasp of what current practice is with Belt & Road related dispute resolution clauses, given the range of deals under the Belt & Road Initiative. It is difficult to predict how the CICC may change those practices. The CICC and its associated dispute resolution mechanism provide an alternative to existing dispute resolution mechanisms. Will it show itself to be a more attractive way to resolve international commercial disputes, efficient and cost-effective, while maintaining high quality? We will need to monitor how it develops.

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Many thanks to those who commented on earlier drafts of this blogpost.

 

Supreme People’s Court Monitor at the Supreme People’s Court

Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 6.54.40 PMOn the afternoon of 21 June, I had the honor (and the challenge) of giving a lecture as part of a lecture series (大讲堂) sponsored by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC)’s China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence (the Institute) (mentioned in earlier blogposts, here and here).   Judge Jiang Huiling, to my right in the photo, chaired the proceedings. Professor Hou Meng of Peking University (to my left), one of China’s leading scholars of the SPC, and Huang Bin, executive editor of the Journal of Law Application  (to Judge Jiang’s right) served as commentators.

The occasional lecture series has included prominent scholars, judges, and others from  China and abroad, including  Judge Cai Xiaoxue, retired SPC administrative division judge (and visiting professor at the Peking University School of Transnational Law), Chang Yun-chien, Research Professor at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica (a New York University SJD), and Professor Zhang Taisu of Yale Law School.

As can be seen from the title slide above. I spoke [in Chinese] about how and why I research the SPC and some tentative views on judicial reform. Preparing the Powerpoint slides and presentation involved work for me that was a counterpart to that of the drafters of President Zhou Qiang’s report to the National People’s Congress (NPC),  considering what issues would be appropriate in the post-19th Party Congress New Era, and would hit the right notes with an audience of people involved with Chinese judicial reform on a daily basis.

I spoke briefly on how I became interested in China, Chinese law, and the Supreme People’s Court, as well as Harvard Law School and its East Asian Studies program (and Columbia Law School as well). I traced my interest in socialist core values back to when I was seven years old, because of the books (see a sample below) and photos my father brought back from a tour he led of American academics working in Afghanistan to the Soviet Union in the early 1960’s, and a fateful opportunity I had as a high school student to learn Chinese. I told the audience also of the meeting I had with Professor Jerome Cohen before starting law school. (In this interview with Natalie Lichtenstein, founding legal counsel of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank),  I discovered that Professor Cohen gave many of us the same advice–“if you study Chinese law you can do something interesting”–and how his group of former students continues to be involved with China and Chinese legal issues in many different ways. I also made comparisons between the career paths of elite legal professionals in China with those in the United States.download-1

Explaining my interest in the Supreme People’s Court, I told how a serendipitous book purchase, bicycle rides past the SPC, a group of people willing to share their insights, and a lot of hard work led to my initial interest in China’s judicial system and to my 1993 article on the SPC. I also told the story of the founding of this blog.

On judicial reform, for the most part, I summarized some of my prior blogposts. I concentrated on the first several reforms as listed in the SPC’s reform outline, particularly the circuit courts, cross-administrative region courts and other efforts to reduce judicial protectionism, the maritime courts, criminal justice related reforms, the evolving case law system, judicial interpretations and other forms of SPC guidance, and many other issues.  However, some of the issues did not make it into the Powerpoint presentation. I concluded with some thoughts about the long-term impacts within China and abroad of this round of judicial reforms.

I was fortunate to have three perceptive commentators and also needed to field some very thoughtful questions from the audience.

The event was reported in the Institute’s Wechat public account and People’s Court Daily.  Many thanks to Judge Jiang and his colleagues  at the Institute for making the event possible, and Professor Hou and Mr. Huang for taking the time and trouble to come from the far reaches of Beijing to appear on the panel (and for their comments).

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How to translate Chinese court terminology?

u=88646385,14022782&fm=27&gp=0When I write about the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), like many others writing about Chinese law in English, I face translation issues, as legal concepts are embedded in language.  The challenge is to find appropriate legal terminology in English for PRC Chinese legal concepts, an issue that “brother” blogger and creator of the Chinalawtranslate.com blog Jeremy Daum, and more broadly, anyone dealing with the Chinese legal system confronts directly.

He Fan , head of the planning department of the SPC’s judicial reform office, prolific translator of (English language) books on the US courts, particularly the US Supreme Court, has recently written about English translation of Chinese court terminology in his Wechat public account. Earlier, the Chinalaw listserv also hosted a discussion of the translation of some specific Chinese court terms.  To bridge the translation worlds, I am summarizing He Fan’s views on the translation of court terms, with my own comments in italics. He Fan’s sources are listed at the end, as are details on how to make comments or corrections.

  1. 司法机关:  literally translated as “judicial organs,” which in English generally refers to the courts only, but in Chinese sometimes means 公检法 (public security/procuratorate/courts). Foreign journalists often have difficulty understanding this term. He Fan notes that if the term is translated as the “Judicial Branch,” it appears to mean the court system [and to an English speaker implies a system with multiple branches of government];
  2. 审判机关: He Fan translates as “Adjudicative Body,” which he says is generally accepted internationally, but in my own experience “judicial organ” is used more frequently.
  3. 审判员: he considers “judge” more easily understood (my 1993 article had a discussion of this vs. 法官);
  4. The Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China”–He Fan notes that internationally, SPC is the usual abbreviation;
  5. 地方各级人民法院: local people’s courts at various levels;
  6. “基层人民法院: He Fan notes several different usages–“primary people’s court”; “grass-roots people’s court”; “basic people’s court”; “district people’s court”–he prefers primary people’s court.

He Fan’s example: 北京市海淀区人民法院:Primary People’s Court of Haidian District of Beijing Municipality of the People’s Republic of China; abbreviated as Haidian Primary People’s Court [I would personally move “Haidian District, to before “Primary/basic level people’s court]

7. 中级人民法院”–usual translation is “intermediate people’s court.”

8.  高级人民法院:,“higher people’s court;,“high people’s court,” or rarely “superior people’s court”–He Fan’s preference is “High Court;”

9. 专门法院: He Fan notes that “Special Court” is sometimes seen but “Specialized Court” is more accurate,and won’t be mistaken for special tribunal。

  • 军事法院: “Military Court”;
  • 海事法院: “Maritime Court”;
  • “知识产权法院”译为“Intellectual Property Court”;
  • “金融法院”译为“Financial Court”;
  • “互联网法院: “Internet Court,” He Fan says some translate it as “Court for Internet,” but the usual translation appears to be Internet Court.

Internal court organizations

In his first Wechat article, He Fan splits internal court institutions into those designated by law and other ones, but this blogpost will disregard that distinction.

  1. 独任庭: single judge panel
  2. 合议庭: collegial panel;
  3. 国家赔偿委员会: “the State Compensation Committee.” I have also seen “State Compensation Commission.”
  4. 审判委员会: “Judicial Committee”,or “Adjudication Committee,” He Fan prefers “Adjudication Committee,” as it is less likely to be confused with committees created by the judiciary. My view is that “judicial committee” is used more widely.
  5. 庭:He Fan mentions chamber, division, tribunal, or “adjudication tribunal,” but he himself prefers “division,” as he considers it more accepted internationally, so:
    • 立案庭: Case-filing Division;
    • 民事审判庭: Civil Division;
    • 刑事审判庭: Criminal Division;
    • 行政审判庭: Administrative Division;
    • 审判监督庭: Judicial Supervision Division;
    • 速裁庭: Summary Division;
    • 人民法庭: but long-established practice is to translate it as people’s tribunal.

The recently established specialized “tribunals” (审判法庭), such as “深圳金融法庭“ (Shenzhen Financial Tribunal) should be translated as “Shenzhen Financial Court,” so by the same reasoning “最高人民法院第一巡回法庭: The 1st Circuit Court of SPC” (personally I would move “SPC” to before 1st Circuit).

Personnel-related terms

  1. 法院干警: literally court cadres & policeman: He Fan believes the term is confusing to foreigners and suggests using “judges, court staff, and judicial personnel.” I have previously translated it as “court officials, (cadres & police)”  and discussed the issue of terminology several times. 
  2. 首席大法, 首席法官: Chief Justice” and “Chief Judge”; 中华人民共和国首席大法官: He Fan states it should be “Chief Justice of the People’s Republic of China” and not “Supreme People’s Court Chief Justice.”
  3. 高级人民法院院长: [according  to the Judges Law] s/he is a 大法官– “Justice,” but “Chief Judge” of his/her court;
  4. 副院长: the practice is to translate it as “Vice President”。“常务副院长: (the #2 in charge), generally translated as “Deputy President”,or “Executive Deputy President” (I personally have seen “Executive Vice President” more often);
  5. 庭长:  three translations are used–“Chief Judge”;“Director”;“Head of Division.” He Fan’s view is that “Chief Judge” is least desirable, because it is least understandable by the foreign audience and can easily be confused with  “court president” and prefers “Director” and for “副庭长”–Deputy Director.” My own writing is not entirely consistent–I  have used “division chief” and “chief judge of _ division.” 
  6. 审判长: the responsible judge on a three-judge collegiate panel. He Fan recommends using “Presiding Judge,” analogizing to the practice of the US federal courts.
  7. 高级法官: generally translated Senior Judge (of which there are ranks 1-4), not to be confused with the US federal courts’ “senior judges” (older judges with a reduced caseload).
  8. 书记员: He Fan advising translating as “Law Clerk” (my practice has been “clerk”); 法官助理 as “Law Assistant” (my practice has been “judge’s assistant);
  9. 司法警察: “Judicial Police;”
  10. 人民陪审员: people’s assessor;
  11. 技术调查官: “Technical Examination Officer.”

Court administrative offices/personnel

办: “Office”,

局: 用“Department” or “Bureau,” (my own practice is “Bureau.”)

“处”用“Division”.

Such as: “办公厅”“General Office”;“研究室” “Research Office”;“监察局”“Supervision Bureau”;“司法改革办公室”: “Judicial Reform Office”;“国际合作局”: “International Cooperation Bureau”;“外事办”:“International Affairs Office”;“司法行政装备管理局(处)”: “Bureau(Division) of Judicial Administration & Equipment Management” (I would personally put “Bureau or Division at the end of the phrase).

Resources

Chinalawtranslate’s glossary and links to other resources;

As cited by He Fan:

  1. translations by Chinalawinfo and WoltersKluwer;
  2. Taiwan’s Judicial Yuan’s bilingual legal glossary;
  3. a glossary of translation of government institutions issued by the Beijing government;
  4. Shanghai government’s glossary;
  5. Shenzhen government’s glossary;
  6. Analysis by foreign scholars.

Corrections?

Those who disagree, have comments or have additions to the above list, please contact me at supremepeoplescourtmonitor@gmail.com or use the blog’s comment function.

 

 

Signals in Supreme People’s Court President Zhou Qiang’s 2018 report to NPC (part 2)

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 12.54.58 PMFor those with the ability (or at least the patience) to decode Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang’s March, 2018 report to the National People’s Congress, it provides insights into the Chinese courts, economy, and society, and of course politics.  This blogpost will address selected aspects of the second and third parts of the report because of competing time demands.

Report drafting

To most of the world, President Zhou Qiang’s reports to the National People’s Congress (NPC) differ little from year to year.  However to President Zhou Qiang and the team of people tasked with preparing a draft that would not be thrown back in their faces, the challenges in 2018 were more formidable than previously.  This year’s report needed to highlight the SPC’s achievements of the last five years, signal that its work in the next year is harmonized with the post-19th Party Congress New Era, and hit the right notes with NPC delegates, who have in the past voted against court reports in significant numbers.

According to this report, the drafting group, which started work in late October (after the 19th Party Congress),  and as anyone familiar with China today would expect, communicated through Wechat. The high stakes report meant that President Zhou Qiang summoned members for drafting sessions during the Chinese new year holiday. The group submitted 37 drafts to President Zhou Qiang and other senior leaders, and as this blog reported in previous years on this blog, senior court leaders traveled the country to seek the views of NPC delegates and many others.

This means (as I have written before, and I have discussed in greater detail in a forthcoming paper) that the statistics have been specially selected.

The summary below (part 2) is not comprehensive but provides some highlights. It signals that the work of the SPC is perfectly synchronized with national policy.

Judicial protection of human rights

The second section of the speech touched on correction and prevention of “mistaken cases,” a topic mentioned in previous NPC reports, and still an ongoing issue.  Over the past five years,  6747 criminal cases have been reopened and retried. Among the measures the report mentions is:

  • policy documents on preventing mistaken cases;
  • the courts implementing principles of evidence-based judgments; (note that China does not yet have detailed criminal evidence rules, but see Judge Yu Tongzhi‘s remarks at a high profile criminal evidence conference on 19-20 May for the latest thinking of the SPC’s criminal divisions)
  • “no conviction in case of doubt;” (most useful discussions of this are behind academic publishers’ paywalls);
  • strictly implementing the death penalty; (as mentioned in earlier blogposts, there have been calls within China to be more transparent on the numbers, but this  decision likely needs top-level clearance);
  • improving legal aid in criminal cases, piloting in some provinces (including Guangdong) full coverage at all levels; [note Art. 21 of these regulations reveal concern about lawyers stirring up troubles, with language similar to Ministry of Justice regulations (不得恶意炒作案件,对案件进行歪曲、有误导性的宣传和评论);

Courts serve economic policy goals

This section highlighted the SPC’s accomplishments in supporting national economic policy goals.  The statistics are all for the past five years. Many of these topics have been previously discussed on this blog:

  1. Commercial cases:  the Chinese courts heard 16,438,000 first instance cases (in the last five years), up almost 54%;
  2. the SPC promoted bankruptcy trials, including developing a national bankruptcy information platform (limited information available–related blogpost here); issued a policy document on transferring cases from enforcement proceedings to bankruptcy; dealt with zombie enterprises by hearing and closing 12,000 bankruptcy cases (over the last five years); issued a company law judicial interpretation; heard and closed 4,106.000 sales tcontracts and 1,320,000 real estate cases.
  3. The SPC served major economic strategies, through issuing 16 measures related to Chinese companies engaging in foreign trade and investment, and the Belt & Road. It established a coordination mechanism for the Beijing, Hebei, and Tianjin courts (blogpost here).  The northeastern courts have provided judicial services to the region’s rejuvenation (see previous blogposts on some of the many legal and social issues); Guangdong, Fujian, etc. courts have provided services to Free Trade Zones;
  4. In the area of finance-related cases, the courts have prevented and resolved financial risk (a concern of the day) by:
  • issuing a policy document on financial cases (post the 2017 Financial Work Conference, on the Monitor’s to-do list),
  • trying and closing 5,030,000 finance-related cases (including insurance, securities, and financial institution loans),
  • trying and closing 7,059,000 private lending cases, 152,000 internet finance cases;
  • struck at illegal fund-raising etc.  (no statistics).  Expect to see more cases in this area in 2018.

4. SPC has improved judicial protection of entrepreneur’s property rights by issuing 17 policy documents (the number may indicate the depth of the problem) (see related blogposts).

5. SPC has supported national innovation policy through issuing an outline on judicial intellectual property (IP) protection, hearing and closing 683,000 IP cases,  working on strategies to deal with the issue for both Chinese and foreign IP holders that in China, IP infringement is low cost but protecting IP rights is high cost, trying the Jordan case and the Huawei v. IDC case.

6.  In the area of environmental protection, the SPC has issued an interpretation on public interest litigation, and concluded 487,000 environmental civil cases, with 11,000 cases of compensation for ecological environmental damages, 1,383 cases of environmental public interest litigation initiated by the procuracy (one of my students is looking into this), and 252 environmental public interest litigation cases were filed by social organizations.

7. In foreign-related cases, the Chinese courts concluded 75,000 foreign-related commercial and civil cases (note they account for a tiny proportion of cases in the Chinese courts).  Although the SPC says that more and more foreign parties have agreed to settle disputes in the Chinese courts, Professor Vivienne Bath’s research has shown that foreign parties are often dragged into the Chinese courts because of principles in Chinese law leading to parallel proceedings.   The protection of “judicial sovereignty” has multiple implications (some explained in the linked article).  This year, after several years of drafting, the SPC has issued a set of three judicial interpretations on the judicial review of arbitration. Supporting the national strategy of increasing its maritime power, the Chinese courts have heard 72,000 maritime first instance cases.  The SPC describes the maritime courts as effectively safeguarding the country’s maritime security and judicial sovereignty.

9. On foreign judicial exchanges, the SPC has handled 15,000 international judicial assistance cases (in fact both Chinese and foreign practitioners complain about how long assistance takes); and the SPC has used international conferences to promote its international role, particularly vis a vis Belt & Road countries.

Signals in Supreme People’s Court President Zhou Qiang’s 2018 report to NPC (part 1)

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 12.54.58 PMFor those with the ability (or at least the patience) to decode Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang’s March, 2018 report to the National People’s Congress, it provides insights into the Chinese courts, economy, and society, and of course politics.  This blogpost will address selected aspects of the first part of the report because of competing time demands.

Report drafting

To most of the world, President Zhou Qiang’s reports to the National People’s Congress (NPC) differ little from year to year.  However to President Zhou Qiang and the team of people tasked with preparing a draft that would not be thrown back in their faces, the challenges in 2018 were more formidable than previously.  This year’s report needed to highlight the SPC’s achievements of the last five years, signal that its work in the next year is harmonized with the post-19th Party Congress New Era, and hit the right notes with NPC delegates, who have in the past voted against court reports in significant numbers.

According to this report, the drafting group, which started work in late October (after the 19th Party Congress),  and as anyone familiar with China today would expect, communicated through Wechat. The high stakes report meant that President Zhou Qiang summoned members for drafting sessions during the Chinese new year holiday. The group submitted 37 drafts to President Zhou Qiang and other senior leaders, and as this blog reported in previous years on this blog, senior court leaders traveled the country to seek the views of NPC delegates and many others.

This means (as I have written before, and I have discussed in greater detail in a forthcoming paper) that the statistics have been specially selected.

The summary below (part 1) is not comprehensive but provides some highlights.

Executive summary (SPC section)

The English language Xinhua report on Zhou Qiang report drew on the introductory section, which was an executive summary of the work of the courts in the last five years, but this section will focus on the summary of SPC’s accomplishments

The SPC heard about 82,383 cases and closed about 79,692 ones, up 60.6 percent and 58.8 percent over the previous five-year period respectively. Much of this caseload is attributable to the circuit courts. For those interested, SPC court hearings (that are being heard openly) are streamed or are saved in a video library on the SPC website: (http://tingshen.court.gov.cn/). (The Supreme People’s Monitor can be seen attending a hearing here).

As mentioned previously, some SPC proceedings, including capital punishment review  and review of lower court rulings not to enforce foreign or foreign-related arbitral awards, are not considered “court hearings.”)

According to a Xinhua report on 10 May, the six circuit courts of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) accepted 2,922 (and concluded 1909) civil, administrative and criminal cases in the first three months of 2018, accounting for 67.2 percent of the total cases of these types accepted by the SPC.  It is possible to view circuit court hearings on-line on the SPC website.

A total of 8,355 petitions were handled by the circuit courts (in the first 3 months of 2018), accounting for 78.92 percent of petitions handled by the SPC. It is clear two of the goals of establishing the circuit courts (the SPC near your home (“家门口的最高法院”) are being achieved: 1)moving the hearing of many cases to the circuit courts; 2) moving the processing of most petitions to the circuit courts.  It is not clear from these statistics how many petitioners sought to petition the circuit courts (and SPC headquarters) –there are likely many more petitioners who visited than petitions accepted.  As was discussed earlier on this blog, the SPC is seeking to involve lawyers in the criminal petitioning (collateral appeals) process.

The SPC highlighted that in the past five years it had issued 119 judicial interpretations (some of which have been discussed on this blog, many translated by Chinalawtranslate.com) and issued 80 guiding cases (link to cases and analysis) (as Jeremy Daum has written, and Mark Cohen has also noted, the statistics show they are not often used by the courts), but did not release numbers on the other types of documents it had issued (this blog has discussed some of them) or the number of model cases or other cases issued by SPC divisions (this blog has recently focused on ones issued by the criminal divisions).

1. Criminal cases

As is usual, President Zhou Qiang discussed criminal cases first, the topics reflecting their political priority. A total of 6.07 million suspects were convicted in first instance trials of 5.49 million criminal cases. (During that period the Chinese courts heard almost 89 million cases, so criminal cases are clearly a small proportion of the cases heard.)

In keeping with the current political priorities, President Zhou Qiang said the courts “resolutely protect the nation’s political security, in particular the security of the state power and the political system.” Similar to last year, no statistics were given for the number of national security cases heard. He does mention the normative document the the SPC issued jointly with other authorities on religious extremism and terrorism (discussed here).

President Zhou Qiang then discusses corruption-related offenses, mentioning the  asset recovery interpretation discussed last year on this blog.  Thereafter he focuses on property and personal safety-related crimes, mentioning this year’s organized crime normative document (this blog discussed it earlier this year), as well as (among others) its accomplishments relating drug cases and medical violence.

He then discussed cases involving violence against women and children (130,000 cases over the past 5 years, food safety (42000) and environmental protection crimes (88,000), and telecommunications crime. Local court white papers have posted detailed statistics concerning many of these crimes (see a Ningbo court white paper on sexual assault cases against minors and a Shanghai district’s court white paper on environmental protection crimes).

In the concluding paragraph, President Zhou Qiang discusses SPC participation in comprehensive security management. President Zhou Qiang mentions implementing an additional responsibility system on judges of publicizing the law (普法).  This is further to a 2017 notice of the Central Committee and State Council’s General Offices Opinion on State Organs implementing “whoever enforces the law publicizes the law” law publicity responsibility system (关于实行国家机关“谁执法谁普法”普法责任制的意见) that imposes responsibility on state organs enforcing the law (administrative and justice) to publicize the law.  Judges are to use court documents, open hearings, circuit courts, streaming of court cases, and posting legal documents on-line to promote the use of cases to explain the law. It is clear that the SPC is taking the circuit court responsibility system seriously, as the SPC’s #2 Circuit Court has been posting a series of articles on its circuit visits around the Northeast (see here).  This adds somewhat to judges’ workload, but this type of responsibility is not as great a concern as the more general responsibility system.

 

 

 

 

Some quick thoughts on Shanghai’s financial court

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Financial cases (accepted/closed) in the Shanghai courts, 2010-16, 2017 cases totaled 179,000

Recently the Wall Street Journal ran a story on the proposed Shanghai financial court, which was approved on 27 April.  The topic of the Shanghai financial court deserves a greater drill down than media reports are able to provide.  Some quick thoughts follow on the proposal and what it means for Chinese court reform:

  1. Shenzhen was actually the first Chinese court to establish a specialized financial trial institution (a tribunal, 法庭) in December, 2017 at the Qianhai Court, but presumably because the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has greater flexibility in experimenting with new institutions in Qianhai, the SPC did not need to obtain approval from the National People’s Congress to establish it. The Shanghai financial court will be established as an additional intermediate court in Shanghai and the first financial court.
  2. The concept of a financial court in Shanghai has been mooted in Shanghai for almost 10 years (not two years, as stated in this press report), with Lv Hongbing, chair of the Grandall Law Firm (Deputy
    Director of the All China Lawyers’ Association) Gui Minjie, former chair of the Shanghai Stock Exchange among its proponents.
  3. Although President Zhou Qiang mentioned the need to bolster the international influence of Chinese justice in finance, Belt & Road, and the goal of establishing Shanghai as an international financial center by 2020, a white paper (from which the charts in this post are taken) issued by the Shanghai courts in 2017 indicates that three quarters of Shanghai’s financial cases in 2016 involved bank cards.  According to my informal discussions with lawyers in the market, more sophisticated financial institutions/funds often include arbitration clauses in their contracts, as can be seen from reports on arbitral enforcement actions in China.
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76.51% bank card disputes; 15.27% financial loan disputes;3.14% finance leasing disputes; 2.37% insurance disputes; 1.65% securities/futures disputes; 1.06% others

4.  The proposal is linked to last year’s financial work conference and the SPC policy document (关于进一步加强金融审判工作的若干意见, Some opinions concerning the further strengthening of financial trial work) to implement it, which called for work on establishing specialized financial institutions within the courts (the reporter who wrote it “is unlikely that other parts of China will have specialised financial courts” was likely unaware of this. This is part of the increasing professionalization and specialization of the Chinese courts.  Point 28 of the SPC policy document stated:

28.  According to the special characteristics of financial cases, explore the establishment of specialized financial trial institutions. According to the location of finacial institutions and the numbers of financial cases, in areas where financial cases are relatively concentrated, select some courts to establish financial divisions (tribunals), explore implementing centralized jurisdiction of financial cases.  In other intermediate courts where there are a relatively large number of financial cases, according to the case situation, more specialized financial tribunals or financial collegiate panels may be established.

28 . 根据金融案件特点,探索建立专业化的金融审判机构。根据金融机构分布和金融案件数量情况,在金融案件相对集中的地区选择部分法院设立金融审判庭,探索实行金融案件集中管辖。在其他金融案件较多的中级人民法院,可以根据案件情况设立专业化的金融审判庭或者金融审判合议庭。

5.   Also indicating that the SPC looks to foreign jurisdictions when establishing Chinese institutions, in his statement to the NPC Standing Committee, President Zhou Qiang explicitly mentioned financial dispute resolution in the United States, United Kingdom,  UAE (Dubai), and Kazakhstan (从世界范围来看,英美等发达国家和阿联酋、哈萨克斯坦等新兴市场国家均建立了专门的金融司法体系).

6. The proposal is linked to the SPC’s diversified dispute resolution policies, particularly in strengthening links between stock exchange and other financial institution dispute resolution and the courts.

7. Judges for the court are to be selected from existing judges in Shanghai and possibly from the legal profession.  As I wrote late last year and last month, recruiting lawyers and other legal professionals to the judiciary mentioned as one of the judicial reforms, has proved to be more difficult than it would otherwise appear to an outsider.  It is unclear what the turnover of middle ranking judges with expertise in the financial sector in Shanghai is, although they would fit the profile of judges who leave the judiciary. The court may be able to retain judges with expertise who might have otherwise decided to leave, because there will be additional promotions available as court president, vice president, etc.

8.  In his statement to the NPC Standing Committee, President Zhou Qiang mentions that the new financial court will have centralized jurisdiction over financial disputes (civil, commercial and administrative, not criminal), foreshadowed in the SPC policy document mentioned above and describes the court’s jurisdiction in some detail. The NPC Standing Committee decision states that the SPC will issue a detailed document on the jurisdiction of the Shanghai financial court, that the financial court will hear civil, commercial and administrative financial cases previously heard by the city’s intermediate court and that appeals will be to the Shanghai Higher People’s Court.

Big data update on contested divorces in China

Recently, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Judicial Cases Research Center (最高人民法院司法案例研究院)(affiliated with the National Judicial College) issued a big data report on contested divorces in 2016-17, a follow up to their report of 18 months ago (the charts below are from the report). The report was done in conjunction with the SPC’s big data center. The Judicial Cases Research Center publishes big data reports occasionally, some in the form of this report.

As noted in earlier blogposts, the 4th Judicial Five Year Plan calls for reforms in judicial statistics:

Reform mechanisms for judicial statistics with the idea of “big data, big picture, and big service” as a guide; make a system of standards for judicial statistics that has scientific classifications and complete information, gradually building a model for analysis of empirical evidence that complies with the reality of judicial practice and judicial rules, and establish a national archive of court judgment opinions and a national center for big data on judicial information.

As I discuss in one of my forthcoming articles,  the language quoted above contains no commitment to release to the public any of this new and improved big data, but careful observation has revealed that some of the more detailed big data from the SPC big data center is being published in one of the SPC’s academic journals.

It shows that in 2017, first instance contested divorces exceeded 1,400,00, somewhat more than in 2016.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 5.32.27 PMAlmost three quarters (73%)of the plaintiffs in first instance divorce cases were women.Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 5.39.20 PM

Mostly couples sued for divorce on the basis that they no longer were compatible, and in about 15% of cases domestic violence was alleged.

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Domestic violence was alleged most often in Guangdong, Guizhou and Guangxi.

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Most of the domestic violence alleged was physical violence.Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 5.44.43 PM

In the first instance divorce cases, 91% of the domestic violence was committed by men on women.

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