Why are Chinese judges resigning?

Much has been written on why Chinese judges are resigning (but not enough about Chinese prosecutors–to be the subject of a later blogpost), but this blogpost (written on the road) adds some more detail and analysis. Comments (and criticism) are welcomed.

In May (2016), Chen Haiguang, the head of the judicial management department of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) revealed that over 1000 judges had left, which he described as about 1% of the judiciary. The number appears to be an underestimate.  The legal Wechatosphere often mentions that a Wechat chat group of former Beijing-based (including the SPC) judges has reached its maximum of 500 members.

More data and analysis comes from two sources: a survey conducted in the fall of 2015 and published by Wusong (a big thank you to another “authoritative person” for bringing this to my attention) and a recent article by one of the more popular Wechat public accounts, Empire Lawyers ( 法客帝国).

Respondees to survey

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Six hundred former judges responded to the survey, conducted through social media, of which 72% had left within the past year, while almost 19% had left within the past 2-3 years.

Who is leaving

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Judges resigning, by sex (82.2% men, 19.67% women

It is mostly men leaving the judiciary, out of proportion  with the ratio of men:women in the judiciary (2:1). (This confirms what I have been saying when I have spoken on this issue). The survey gives the rationale that men are more interested in a challenging career than women, and are able to deal with a more pressured life.

Judges are resigning in their 30’s, for the most part (see below), and my own analysis is that the reason women are staying in the judiciary is that (married) women at that age also have responsibilities to children and elderly parents. Women are prepared to deal with the stresses of working in the judiciary because the work is more “stable,” and does not involve marketing work after business hours.

Age and education

Over half (55%) of the judges resigning are in their 30’s. Most (70%) have been in the judiciary for at least 6 years, with practically all (91%) with at least 4 years of experience, over 99% with an undergraduate degree and 37% with a master’s degree.

Type of court and area of work

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Most judges who have resigned recently  are from the basic level (78%) and intermediate level courts (18%).

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Many (almost 80%) of the judges who had resigned were in the civil/commercial divisions, with division chiefs and deputy division chiefs accounting for 14% and 19% respectively.

Reasons for leaving:

  • benefits insufficient (66% selected this as primary reason);
  • too much pressure and too much work (60%);
  • not enough opportunity for promotion (34%);
  • professional risk and lack of professional respect (31%).

Those that have resigned are generally pessimistic about judicial reform (47%) or can’t say for certain whether it will be successful (32%). Their “judges’ dream” is to be able to try cases independently, without reporting their case up to the leadership, worrying about parties to the case petitioning because they are unhappy with the outcome, etc.

Another analyst (the editor of the Wechat account Empire Lawyers) gave three reasons for the wave of judges submitting their resignations.

  • Wechat;
  • Judicial reform;
  • Other factors (especially money).

Why Wechat?  Because it has given them a new universe of social connections outside the judiciary. It also gives them easy access to information about the life of former judges similar to themselves. Moreover, through Wechat they can create a circle of friends and connections who can provide moral support when they have made the decision to resign. According to the editor, Wechat is often a vehicle for judges preparing to resign. Some judges establish their own Wechat public accounts while still in the judiciary, publishing articles that bring much more attention from legal professionals to their expertise than their judgments ever do.

The increased stresses of judicial reform are another set of factors–the lifetime responsibility system,  case registration system, and particularly, the bright line quota on the number of judges (no more than 39%) means that promotions will come more slowly than previously and others will not even be eligible to participate in the examinations for qualifying as a judge.

Other factors?  The editor cited money, particularly judges in major cities with high costs of living.  The fact remains that middle-class life in China’s major cities, particularly for couples with a child, is expensive and judicial salaries, tied to civil service rank, are inadequate.   As the editor mentioned, some judges supplement their wages with (legal) inome from writing or lecturing. (It seems likely in the current atmosphere, fewer judges are willing to risk soliciting illegal income.)

There is also the rigidity of the Party/state cadre management system. While law firm partner classmates are posting photos of themselves at Yosemite or in the Grand Tetons on Wechat, judges must obtain permission to leave the country

Finally, this couplet is popular on legal oriented Wechat:

网上流行一个段子:

Q: Do you regret resigning from the court?

问:从法院辞职,你后悔吗?

A: Regret.

答:后悔。

Q: Why do you regret it?

问:为什么后悔?

A: I regret that I left too late.

答:后悔出来晚了。

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Supreme People’s Court’s new bankruptcy information platform

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 12.12.56 PMOn 1 August, President Zhou Qiang of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) inaugurated the SPC’s new enterprise bankruptcy and reorganization electronic information platform, linked here and accessible through the Supreme People’s Court’s website (www.court.gov.cn).  The English title and slogans could have benefited from a 5-minute consultation with a native speaker, but more importantly, some of the functions still appear to be in Beta mode.  The platform has three parts.

It provides information for the public on:

  • Debtors (债务人信息). :

 This function seems to be in Beta mode because when you click further for more details,Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 9.03.31 AMno further information is available.  This section is intended to provide the most recent annual report, related litigation, and information on assets of the company from the industrial and commercial authorities’ database and enable “one-stop shopping” for distressed assets.

Bankruptcy notices, such as this one with a plan on the distribution of the assets of a Xinjiang tomato processing company;

  • Bankruptcy rulings made by the local courts, such as this one by the Qidong (Jiangsu) court on accepting the bankruptcy case of a Nantong marine engineering company;
  • Laws and regulations (primarily SPC regulations related to bankruptcy);
  • Bankruptcy related news, primarily reports on new regulations issued and bankruptcy-related initiatives or conferences, such as this one in Zhejiang, on the crisis in Zhejiang’s ship-building industry);
  • Typical (model) bankruptcy and liquidation cases (see an explanation of typical/mode cases here), so far just a re-publication of the typical cases that the SPC issued in June.

Second, bankruptcy administrators are required by these regulations to upload information to issue to parties to the bankruptcy.

Third, judges are required to upload their bankruptcy/liquidation rulings to this platform.

For parties, the platform enables them to have current information on the status of their cases and upload documents to submit to the court or bankruptcy administrator.

The SPC issued regulations on the operation of the platform in late July, available here. It seems likely that the SPC considered the bankruptcy platform of other major jurisdictions in the process.  This platform is part of the SPC’s Internet Plus/smart courts policy to provide greater transparency, easier access to information, and “greater informatization,” for some of the reasons described in this short article–particularly having tangible results and promoting the use of information technology.

For anyone seeking to drill down into the details of how bankruptcy and liquidation law is being implemented in China’s political and economic environment, and particularly for lawyers and others doing due diligence and distressed asset investors (domestic or foreign), the platform is unquestionably very useful.

 

 

 

 

How China’s non-guiding cases guide

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 12.13.38 PM  What few recognize is that the millions of non-guiding cases on the Supreme People’s Court’s China Judgments Online website (and its commercial counterparts, such as 无讼(and any internal version that there may be)) are guiding the development of Chinese law, including what arguments lawyers make and how judges decide cases.  I note that this coming week’s U.S.-China Judicial Dialogue: In Support of Economic Growth and Reform includes the role of precedent as one of the topics of discussion, and I hope this brief blogpost (to be expanded later) can indirectly contribute to the discussion.

The conventional wisdom among both foreigners and Chinese writing about China and case law is that with the exception of a small number of guiding cases approved by the SPC, previous cases do not make law.

Those closer to the world of practice in China know that previous cases, or some portion of them, are indirectly shaping the development of Chinese law. From a Chinese perspective these cases are not directly guiding, or binding, but provide cases that lawyers and judges use as reference (参考), to persuade a judge or other decision-maker that a previous case has decided the same or similar issues. This phenomenon relates to cases in a broad range of issues and occurs in several ways:

  • A significant number of Chinese judges and lawyers follow Wechat legal public accounts. One type of article that frequently appears is one focusing on a specific legal issue and uses the case database to generate relevant cases.  A typical example is this article published on 29 July, analyzing six cases relating to changing the name of a child.  This type of article affects arguments lawyers make and the judges consider.
  • A second way is judges themselves will search a particular issue to see how other courts have decided a particular issue or the elements to which they have looked when deciding a particular issue. Lawyers perform similar analysis when preparing to argue a case.
  • Additionally, lawyers sometimes submit a relevant court decision when making a submission in an administrative proceeding, such as to the Trademark Review and Adjudication Board and more often, when making submissions to court.  Lawyers will evaluate, however, whether the judges hearing the case will take the submission positively or will consider it an indirect criticism of their professional competency. Lawyers will submit cases from courts higher than the court that they are litigating–so that a lawyer litigating in a Beijing district court may attach a relevant case decided by the Beijing Higher People’s Court, for example.
  • Among the many sources of information SPC judges use when drafting judicial interpretations is searches of previous judgments relevant to the issues under consideration, because those will indicate which questions are unclear for the lower courts.
  • Legal services companies, such as Itslaw, are training young lawyers in case searching and retrieval (guiding and non-guiding cases), using keywords analogous to Westlaw’s and LexisNexis’ products. They are doing this training because prior cases are being used in advocacy in China.

How are cases from China Judgments Online being used in China in practice? This is where we can see how case law, Chinese style, is developing. The SPC has been focusing its efforts on its guiding cases and it is unclear whether they have noticed this.