From 1 July 2016, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) is (in principle) broadcasting live all its public trials (public hearings) (better understood by those from a common law jurisdiction as an appellate court hearings) on its own Court TV website.
SPC broadcasts also include hearings by the #2 Circuit Court (in Shenyang) and #1 Circuit Court in Shenzhen. The technical platform is provided through Sina.com and a private company. The SPC describes its online broadcasts as its fourth transparency platform.
Some of the cases that the SPC considers do not have public hearing procedures, such as its capital punishment review and judicial review of decisions concerning foreign and foreign-related arbitral awards.
As of 14 July, there almost 30 cases for which the videos are available, many of which involve lending, either bank or private lending and real estate-related disputes, and are primarily civil cases. Some of the cases include:
- Application for Re-trial, Nestle vs. State Administration of Industry and Commerce Trademark Review and Reconsideration Board (TRAB);
- Loan dispute heard in the #2 Circuit Court involving a Nanning private company, Bank of China, Liaoning, and the Vansun Group (in this case, counsel for the Nanning company alleges the CEO of the company was incapacitated by alcohol (over 1 jin-500 grams) when he signed the loan contract)
- A Fujian investment co. v. Guizhou real estate development company (private lending dispute).
It provides a window into the world of Chinese commercial disputes.
SPC Vice President Jing Hanchao, who was apparently tasked with implementing this development, is quoted by the official press as saying:
the live webcasts will be significant progress for judicial openness. With full transparency of trials online, the public can better play their supervisory role.
Live broadcasts will also drive judges to strengthen their capabilities, thus improving the judicial system…
..live webcasts will create a large amount of data that will help jurists study China’s legal system.
Having their advocacy broadcast on line may also drive lawyers to strengthen their advocacy skills as well.
For persons interested in the Chinese judiciary, it provides easy access to SPC court hearings, without the hassle of special permission, letters of introduction, and trips to Beijing.
Lawyers in Beijing do not seem to be aware of this development, at least judging by the lawyer acting for TRAB, who arrived in the courtroom after the hearing began.
Some outstanding questions
This decision by the SPC raises a number of questions.
- Were the parties asked whether they consented to having their case broadcast on line? It is not apparent from the recordings that I have seen.
- Individual parties read out their personal identification numbers on the recordings. Could this be an invasion of their privacy?
- The recently promulgated People’s Court Courtroom Rules (translation here (thank you Chinalawtranslate.com) and original here) lacks any type of balancing test:
- Article 11: In any of the following situations, for trial activities that are conducted openly in accordance with law, the people’s courts may use television, the internet or other public media to broadcast or record images, audio or videos.
- The 2010 regulations on the broadcast of cases (关于人民法院直播录播庭审活动的规定) lack specific procedures enabling individuals to protect their rights. Do judicial reforms contemplate more specific procedures enabling litigants (or defendants) to refuse to have their case broadcast online?
Mac users may find that the platform works better through the Safari browser than Google Chrome.