On 22 December, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) posted four big data reports drafted jointly by its Information Center and the Judicial Cases Research Center (affiliated with the National Judicial College).
The bar chart above, from the divorce report, shows the number of divorce cases heard in the courts in 2014-September, 2016, stating that the 2016 cases have increased almost 11% over the same time the year before. A subsequent chart shows that domestic violence as the cause for divorce in 27.8% of cases.
The reports appear to be products of the recently established SPC big data company. The analysis in the reports is restricted to bullet points, rather the more detailed analytical reports that are found on the websites/Wechat public accounts of courts and lawyers. (Suggestion to (any) readers from the SPC– translations of these reports would be a useful addition to the English version of the SPC’s website).
Anyone looking for more than current statistics and basic analysis is advised to search for more detailed analysis done by law firms, local courts, some of the legal media companies, and some of the other divisions of the SPC. On the topic of divorce, for example, an SPC judge published this analysis earlier this year, generally considered to be the most authoritative summary of the issues in Chinese divorce law.
The 4th Five Year Court Reform Plan (Court Reform Plan) flagged the SPC’s big data company and the stress that the SPC is placing on big data:
22. Deepen reforms of 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. (translation from @Chinalawtranslate)
The Court Reform Plan signals that the stress is on judicial statistics and using big data for internal use rather than for public access, as “complete information” is not provided to the public, with death penalty statistics the best-known example. Although judicial transparency is greater before (especially for those of us with a historical perspective), from time to time SPC media sources reiterate that judicial personnel are required to keep state secrets (as the Judges Law and other legislation require).
At the moment, transparency of judicial statistics and analysis varies greatly across provinces. Jiangsu Province’s high court, for example, has judicial statistics on its homepage:
Many law firms publish big data analysis of specific types of cases in their area of practice, such as this analysis of credit card fraud cases in Guangzhou (22% of the defendants were represented by counsel) and drug cases in Guangzhou (less than 15% represented by counsel). An analysis of drug cases in Guangdong (Jieyang, a center for the methamphetamine business) by the local court, has important insights into the routinization of criminal justice, the inadequacy of court judgments, and the way that the trial itself and the role of defense counsel (if hired) is marginalized.
Big data analyses can be found in a range of substantive areas, ranging from finance disputes to construction disputes, some by law firms and others by local courts. My fellow blogger, Mark Cohen, recently highlighted the data analysis provided by IPHouse, a firm started by a former SIPO Commissioner. They are useful to the lawyer/in-house counsel planning or considering litigation strategy, as well as for policy-makers and academics. Each provides a glimpse of how (and sometimes why) the Chinese legal system works as it does.