Supreme People’s Court overhauls judicial performance indicators

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Jincheng Shanxi court evaluation meeting

The 27 December headline story in the People’s Court Daily and the national court website is the decision by the Party Committee of the Supreme People’s Court (the Court), issued to the entire court system, to:

  • cancel court performance rankings;
  • Except for those targets for resolving cases that according to law are compulsory, the remaining targets should become reference data for analyzing judicial operations.
  • oppose the practice of avoiding accepting cases at year end with the excuse that it would bring down the court’s case resolution index.

This is the result of its own fieldwork, as well as criticism from the lower courts, NPC delegates, academics, and lawyers. Chinese courts avoid accepting new cases close to year end if the case will not be resolved until the next year, because these cases will pull down a court’s performance indicators, even though the rights of litigants can be sacrificed.

Chinese and foreign academics have highlighted the negative consequences of judicial performance performance targets for many years.

He Fan, a Court judge on the staff of the research office, while applauding the change, pointed out in his blog that despite the change of policy by the Court, some lower court judges remain under pressure by local court leadership to work overtime to resolve cases.

What indicators will replace them?

The reports do not link to the underlying Court document and so it remains unclear what performance indicators will replace the ones that have been abolished, or which indicators fall into the second category.  The judicial reforms anticipate having a smaller number of judges handling an increasing number of cases.  If judges find the new performance evaluation system unacceptable, this may lead to an even greater outflow of judges than is already occurring.

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New circuit courts opening soon in Shenzhen and Shenyang

Chinese press reports have revealed that the Supreme People’s Court (Court) will establish pilot circuit courts (巡回法庭) in Shenzhen and Shenyang by year’s end.  According to Chinese social media, Judge Liu Guixiang will head the Shenzhen circuit court, which has now been officially confirmed.  The vice presidents in Shenzhen will be Zhou Fan, formerly deputy head of the #4 civil division and Kong Xiangjun, formerly deputy head of the #3 civil division.  Hu Yunteng will head the Shenyang circuit court, while the vice presidents will be Zheng Xuelin, who now heads the environmental division and Yu Zhengping of the trial supervision tribunal.

The Central Leading Group for Judicial Reform approved their establishment in early December.  Although documents have not yet been released describing their location, jurisdiction or the personnel appointed, press reports pinpoint the former site of the Shenzhen Intermediate Court on Hongling Road as the location of the Shenzhen circuit court, with jurisdiction over administrative and major commercial trans-provincial cases arising in Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan. According to press reports, the Court issued a notice to judges inviting applications for the circuit courts.

On 30 December, the Court announced that the circuit courts will start taking cases from the beginning of 2015.

New regulations in China on classifying state secrets

I have published an article in the Diplomat concerning the State Secrecy Bureau’s March, 2014 Interim Provisions on Management of State Secrets Classification(国家秘密定密管理暂行规定) (and their implications), with a longer version to follow. The text of the regulations is linked here) and our English translation is linked here (Classification regulations translation).

Many thanks to those who commented on the draft article!

 

Where is the Supreme People’s Court headed with judicial committee reform?

55e15ba4755d55f74efa66a505224312Judicial (also called adjudication) committees are the unseen force behind the panel of three judges hearing a case in a Chinese court.  The decision a judicial committee makes binds the panel that heard the case.  Although this has not been mentioned, judicial committees must have approved the original decisions in a number of cases recently revealed to have mistaken, such as:

  • the 1996 execution of Huugjilt, in Inner Mongolia;
  • The 1995 conviction of Tian Weidong, Chen Jianying and others in Hangzhou, Zhejiang.

For this reason, judicial committees are important to anyone involved with or concerned with the Chinese courts, whether as a lawyer, litigant, or representative of a foreign or international organization, NGO, or government.

The Third and Fourth Plenum Decisions both mentioned judicial committee reform but without any details.  The Court has revealed the direction of its thinking on this topic in two recent articles published this month (December, 2014) on the national court website.

What are judicial committees?

Throughout the history of the PRC, court legislation has stated that these committees “practice democratic centralism” and that their task is to “sum up judicial experience and to discuss important or difficult cases or other issues relating to judicial work.”

The reason that the panel that hears the case must follow the decision of the judicial committee is that judicial committees are designated as the “highest judicial organ” within a court and implement the principle of democratic centralism. They decide cases that are too difficult or important for an individual judge or judicial panel to decide, to ensure the optimal substantive result (as seen from the institutional perspective of the courts.  Judicial committees have long been criticized by the academic community both inside and outside of China, and some judges have written about their drawbacks as well.

Judicial committees operate under 2010 regulations that I analyzed in an earlier article (Reforming judicial committees).  (According to those rules, major cases such as death sentences must be approved by a court’s judicial committee, so judicial committees must have been involved in the mistaken cases mentioned above).  (For those interested learning more about  the operations of the judicial committee of a local court, I highly recommend the study linked here).

The state of judicial committee reform policy

For over a year, the Supreme People’s Court (which itself has a judicial committee) has apparently been exploring where it wants to go with its policies towards judicial committees.  Both the Third and Fourth Plenum Decisions signalled that some reform of the judicial committee system was on the agenda:

  • Reform the trial committee system, perfect case handling responsibility systems for presiding judges and collegiate benches, let those hearing the case judge, and those judging the case be responsible.
  • Clarify the duties of all levels within judicial organs and complete internal mechanisms for supervision and check. Internal personnel of judicial organs must not violate provisions to interfere with other personnel’s handling of cases, establish recording and accountability systems for internal personnel looking into cases. Improve case handling responsibility systems for presiding judges, collegial panels, … to implement a system where the person handling the cases bears responsibility.

Issues with judicial committees

Wang Bin, a judge on the Nanjing Intermediate Court commented on some of the issues she has observed with judicial committees in an article published in early December in the People’s Court Daily:

1. The judicial committee inserts a  “subjective filter” between the judges who try cases and the judicial committee that decides the case, “making it difficult to guarantee the objectivity and accuracy of the results of the judgment.”

2.Judicial committees decide cases in conference, which involves a wide range and large number of cases. Although the 2010 regulations require the judges that heard the case to prepare a written report, Judge Wang notes that judicial committee members have neither the opportunity nor the time and energy to learn more about the specific circumstances of each case.  The committee has a large number of members (court president, vice presidents,division heads and some specialist committee members, and the local procurator), which means each case receives limited discussion time and and the views of defense counsel are not properly considered.

3. The members of the judicial committee include heads of the criminal, civil, and administrative divisions of a court, but with the greater complexity of Chinese legislation and the cases coming before the courts, and the fact that each member of the committee receives one vote, it is difficult to ensure that the resulting decision will be fair and appropriate.

Judicial committee reform

The solutions that she suggests are in line with (and more pointed than) those suggested by  President Zhou Qiang, whose remarks need to be appropriate for the wide range of Chinese courts.

1. Judicial committees should provide a macro-level guidance to judges. Given the increase in a broad range of litigation, judicial committees should use their authority to select typical cases, summarize best practices, and issue normative documents.

2. Judicial committees should reduce the number of actual cases that they decide.  Judge Wang suggests (as have others), that the standard under which cases are submitted to the judicial committee are too vague, and more specific guidance should be drafted. Cases in which evidence is disputed should not be submitted to a judicial committee.

3. Judge Wang recommends that criminal cases that judicial committees discuss should be limited to ones in which the evidence is clear, and most cases should be decided by the panel that has heard the case. In death penalty cases, a vote of 2/3 of judicial committee members should be required (rather than a simple majority), because this is more consistent with national death penalty policy.

4. The members of the judicial committee should be selected for their professional competence rather than their administrative rank.

5. Judge Wang suggests the decision making process should be changed, so that members are required to state their view and rationale before voting.

6.  Judge Wang advocates that the procurator not be a member of the judicial committee.  In her view, this violates the principle of independence of the judiciary and interferes with justice.

President Zhou Qiang links judicial committee reforms to principles of judicial responsibility, suggesting that judicial committee meetings be recorded and judicial committee members assume responsibility for their decisions.

We can expect these judicial committee reforms to take firmer shape in the medium term.  While President Zhou Qiang mentioned that the Court will take the lead in implementing some of these judicial committee reforms, according to recent press reports, these will also be incorporated into some of the local pilot projects.

 

Supreme People’s Court, CSRC, SAIC, and PBOC tighten the regulatory net

e8fade90gw1ek1l57pt9jj2050050t8sOn 19 December 2014, the Supreme People’s Court (Court) and China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) announced that they were linking their blacklists and regulatory systems, following the arrangements the Court has made with other regulators since it established its judgment debtor database in October, 2013.  One of the major issues for the court system in having judgments enforced is interdepartmental regulatory silos that enable judgment debtors to avoid enforcement against their assets.

As of today, the Court’s database includes over 100,000 companies and almost 700,000 individuals. The goal is to tighten the net around non-compliant companies and individuals.  This initiative of the Court and CSRC is related to the State Council policy document issued in February, 2014,  on registered capital reform, in particular, the requirement that government departments improve interdepartmental sharing of information. Additionally, the Court names and shames one corporate and individual judgment debtor each day on social media.

The arrangement with the CSRC will involve the Court linking its system with the CSRC’s database of almost 700,000 entries concerning individuals and companies that have committed securities violations, and to prevent judgment debtors from accessing the capital markets.

Other arrangements the Court has made include:

  • an October, 2014, arrangement with the State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC), which links  the SAIC’s credit information disclosure system (corporate disclosure system), described here, with the Court’s database (and requires SAIC cooperation in enforcing judgements);
  • a November, 2013  arrangement with the People’s Bank of China, directed at preventing judgment debtors from obtaining loans or financing through the banking system.

A search through the Court’s database is useful to a variety of users:

  • Lawyers, financiers and others engaged in due diligence on Chinese companies and individuals;
  • Companies, Chinese or foreign, contemplating doing business with a Chinese company or individual; and
  • Scholars and students researching the local operation of the Chinese economy and court system.