The Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate are together drafting a judicial interpretation on Article 399a of the Criminal Law, the crime of “twisting the law in arbitration.” My understanding is that one of the criminal law divisions of the Supreme People’s Court is involved in the drafting, rather than the #4 civil division, well-known internationally for its expertise in arbitration issues. According to an article published by the Guiyang Arbitration Commission, in late April, the State Council Legislative Affairs Office distributed the draft to some arbitration commissions for comment. Given the many legal issues it raises for domestic and foreign arbitrators (and the Chinese government’s international/regional obligations), it should be issued publicly for comment.
What is Article 399a of the Criminal Law?
Article 399a, is part of Chapter IX: Crimes of Dereliction of Duty.
Where a person, who is charged by law with the duty of arbitration, intentionally runs counter to facts and laws and twists the law when making a ruling in arbitration, if the circumstances are serious, he shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years or criminal detention; and if the circumstances are especially serious, he shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years.”(依法承担仲裁职责的人员，在仲裁活动中故意违背事实和法律作枉法裁决，情节严重的，处三年以下有期徒刑或者拘役;情节特别严重的，处三年以上七年以下有期徒刑.)
Article 399a, (which seems to have been drawn from analogous provisions in Japanese and Taiwan law), was promulgated despite protests from the arbitration community. Harsh criticism continues to be published (in Chinese), such as Professor Song Lianbin’s Critical Analysis of the Crime of Deliberately Rendering an Arbitral Award in Violation of Law. Recently, Duan Xiaosong, a Chinese law lecturer, published an article in a US law review on Article 399a, but the article apparently did not catch the attention of international practitioners.
- Article 399a is a duty crime (one committed by officials). How is it that Chinese arbitrators who are not officials, or foreign arbitrators can commit this crime?
- The procuratorate investigates duty crimes. This means that the procuratorate must review an award to make a decision whether to investigate whether an award has been intentionally rendered “in violation of facts and law.” Will a procuratorate be able to conduct this review applying foreign law?
- If a procuratorate prosecutes a case under Article 399a, it also requires a court to undertake a substantive review of an arbitral award.
- Judicial interpretations of both the Supreme People’s Court and Procuratorate raise important issues. As suggested in several earlier blogposts, part of the judicial reforms should include greater requirements for public comment on draft judicial interpretations. Depending on how familiar the US and EU bilateral investment treaty negotiators are with the details of Chinese law, this may be raised by negotiators.
Because this judicial interpretation has implications for China’s obligations under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention) and the analogous arrangement with Hong Kong, the draft should be made public so that the greater arbitration community, domestic and foreign, is able to provide detailed analysis and commentary on it. This is the interests of the international and Chinese legal communities.