In August, 2016, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) #2 Circuit Court issued a sset of 30 case summaries (literally important points, 案例要旨）on administrative cases, selected from the many administrative cases heard in the first year and a half of operation. The #2 Circuit Court hailed it as a new type of case guidance (审判新指南) in March, 2017. This type of case guidance is mentioned in my forthcoming article in the Tsinghua China Law Review. Although this document does not have any formal status (at least yet) in the universe of SPC case guidance, it has been approved at a conference of administrative judges in Liaoning, Heilongjiang, and Jilin, and the rules it sets out should be considered highly persuasive to courts in those three provinces.
It is likely that these cases will provide background material for a more comprehensive judicial interpretation of the Administrative Procedure (Litigation) Law than the one issued shortly after the amended law was promulgated. Some of these cases have also been incorporated into the SPC’s 10 model #2 Circuit Court cross-administrative region commercial and administrative cases. The document does not include a summary of the underlying facts, but some of the full case reports are found elsewhere. Each case (most relate to land disputes) provides a glimpse into the behavior of local government vis a vis ordinary Chinese citizens and companies, the (limited) scope for review of administrative action under Chinese law, and the unusual legal issues in the review of administrative action. Brief commentary follows each case summary restatement. on 1 April, Wang Cailiang, the deputy chair of the All China Lawyers Association, published Wechat commentary on administrative litigation and judicial reform. Highlights of some of his comments follows the case summaries.
#5. Fan Chunsheng v. Heping District, Shenyang Government: issue–compulsory administrative act and administrative compensation case:
If the administrative organ illegally demolishes the plaintiff ‘s house, the compensation standard must not be lower than the compensation standard that the plaintiff may obtain according to the administrative compensation scheme. The plaintiff’s request for compensation must be upheld by the people’s court in accordance with the amount that can be obtained through the compensation scheme.
[The full text of the case is found here. It involved a man whose home was demolished. The court determined that the parties had not come to an agreement about compensation and the District Government had not gone through proper procedures to expropriate Mr. Fan’s property. The facts are similar to some of the model demolition cases released by the SPC several years ago.]
#16 Siping Haifeng Garden Real Estate Development Co. v, Siping (Jilin) People’s Government: issue–are government meeting summaries actionable?
A government meeting summary that is considered to be an internal government document setting out possible approaches in dealing with certain problems, but without a real impact on the rights and obligations of the parties, will be considered an administrative act that is not actionable. However, if the government uses the form of a meeting summary to make an administrative decision with legal effect, it is considered an actionable administrative action. The “externalization” of the meeting summary is necessary for the meeting summary to be actionable. Even if the contents of a meeting summary has been notified or delivered to the relevant parties, but if it remains a description of possible approaches, rather than an effective administrative decision, it will be considered a non-actionable administrative act with no real effect on the parties’ rights.
[The rule here indicates that is how the document is being used, rather than the form of document that determines whether a court can review it.]
#19, Zhang Qinghai v. Benxi Municipal Government–issue: is a decision by a provincial level government to expropriate land actionable
According the provisions of Article 30 (2) of the Administrative Reconsideration Law and Reply of the SPC to a question concerning Article 30(2) of the Administrative Reconsideration Law, a decision by the State Council or provincial level governments concerning the expropriation of land and a related administrative reconsideration decision is considered acts of final decision and is not within the scope of cases than can be accepted under the Administrative Litigation Law.
[A brief search of some other jurisdictions reveals that this type of decision can be challenged under the law of some other jurisdictions: United States federal and state law and German law, for example].
#23, Han Yawen v. Zhaoyuan County, Heilongjiang People’s Government–issue: is an agreement not to petition (息诉罢访协议) actionable
An agreement not to petition between an administrative agency and a petitioner is an agreement with rights and duties under administrative law between an administrative agency with a petitioner to maintain social order and stability, in the public interest and in furtherance of administrative functions, according to the localism principle, the relevant government provides money or other benefits and should be considered a type of administrative agreement. When a people’s court accepts this type of case, it should review the legality of the content of the agreement according to law.
[Further background on the case found here. the SPC rejected Han’s application for retrial because the statute of limitations had lapsed). (A form of agreement found here. This 2011 book chapter mentions that these agreements could be challenged in theory, but the inclusion of this principle shows that petitioners often seek to challenge them, at least in the northeastern provinces.]
A summary of remarks by Wang Cailiang, on whether the amended Administrative Litigation Law, in effect for almost two years, will be able to make progress:
- On government interference: “I can responsibly say that most grass-roots courts consciously or unconsciously play the role of a subordinate department of the local government…. in recent years when local governments promote the redevelopment of shantytowns, major projects, development zones, with which the local court also either actively or passively cooperates, there exists a conflict between the citizens right to administrative review (reconsideration) and litigation. Moreover, the Government on the one hand needs the court to give support in implementing the project; the other hand, the government wants to spend less money. It creates an enormous obstacle to hearing administrative cases fairly and equitably.
- More hard work needed to resolving social conflicts (contradictions): in 2016, there were high numbers of administrative litigation and petitioning, with old and new issues, caused by housing condemnation, land expropriation, administrative enforcement…Affected parties sought to protect their rights through the courts, and 225,000 administrative cases were accepted by the courts, with a clear increase of cases against county governments accepted by intermediate courts, and even the SPC had accepted over 2000 by the end of September. This has to do with the amended Administrative Litigation Law and clarity that county governments are the parties to expropriate land [under the relevant legislation], which means that the rate at which government is losing cases is rising, although the SPC hasn’t released 2016 data. In July-August, 2016, documents issued by the State Council General Office and the SPC on administrative agencies responding to law suits has improved matters. Also, under the new law, the reconsideration organ is the joint defendant with the original authority, so this changes the venue for these law suits, giving affected parties more hope…In 2016 there were major issues with demolition disputes after courts determine that administrative action by the court is illegal, some local governments reject the decisions and refused to take the initiative to correct the error, failure to make timely compensation to the plaintiff is very common…Even in cases where people should be prosecuted for criminal violations, not one has…
- There are too many wrongly decided cases–reasons–besides interference, professional competence of judges, traditional way of thinking of courts…
- Few administrative cases are resolved on time (he can tell this although the SPC has not released statistics),
- Some problems remain with the case registration system.
- He suggests proceeding on the rule of law route–promoting judicial reform and cross-administrative region courts; open up public opinion, so administrative litigation proceeds in the sunshine; having the SPC curb its tendency to issue judicial interpretations [this is entirely impractical, in my view]; and send the judges out of the case registration division and back to the trial divisions.
- He summarizes, but does not comment on remarks made by Meng Jianzhu (Meng), head of the Communist Party’s Central Political Legal Committee at a meeting on 29 March of the Leading Small Group on Judicial Reform with senior members of the political legal leadership (head of the Ministry of Public Security, presidents of the Supreme People’s Court and Procuratorate, Minister of Justice, etc.) that the targets of judicial reform (he means the political legal institutions, not just the judiciary) need to be achieved before the 19th Party Congress and admitting there have been difficulties in implementing some judicial reforms. Meng directed the authorities to research the problem and come up with practical solutions.
- Wang concludes by saying that the specific goals in this round of judicial reforms have never been made public–how far it is to go, so the public does s not understand them, so it lacks societal supervision, understanding and support–the effectiveness of a reform that lacks public participation naturally will be reduced, and we must be concerned about this. (然而，这一轮司法改革的具体的目标在开始至今并没有公开，以致要走到哪一步社会不了解，从而缺少社会公众的监督与理解、支持。一个缺少公众参与的改革，效果必然大打折扣，这是我们不能不担心的.)
Judging from a limited sample (such as the report done by the #2 Circuit Court), at least some of the research and analysis that is being done within the political legal institutions is insightful and practical. But as President Trump has said about health care, “It’s an unbelievably complex subject, nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” The same can be said about reforming the Chinese judiciary.