Farewell Judge Fang Jingang

 

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Funeral of Judge Fang Jinggang, #4 Circuit Court, Zhengzhou

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from website of Yale’s Paul Tsai China Center

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While Party leaders (including Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang) were attending the 19th Communist Party Congress, tragedy again struck the Chinese judiciary. Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Judge Fang Jingang, who was working in the #4 Circuit Court in Zhengzhou, succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 51. Joining the dark-suited crowd pictured above (his circuit court colleagues and selected current and former senior personnel from Supreme People’s Court (SPC) headquarters and elsewhere, including his former superior Jing Hanchao, now deputy secretary of the Central Political Legal Committee )  in spirit was a large crowd of former colleagues and friends, located in China and abroad who were unable to attend the funeral in person.

Judge Fang can be considered a symbol of the new generation of elite Chinese judges. He spent many years  in the local courts as well as the SPC and also spent time abroad.  Like many of his colleagues, he had a PhD, and had worked in Hunan courts before being recruited to the SPC, initially to the Institute of Applied Jurisprudence and SPC’s judicial reform office. While at the Institute and thereafter, he and colleagues translated foreign materials (including several year-end reports of the federal judiciary) for internal reference and publication and he continued to research and make use of foreign law. He also spent several months at Yale Law School as a visiting scholar and as a result made friends among the Chinese law academic community in the United States (and continued to keep up with English language news, presumably from foreign sources).

After he returned to China he transferred to the “front line”–to the SPC’s case acceptance division and #2 civil division and was also sent to work in Tibet’s Higher People’s Court for three years under the SPC’s “assist Tibet” program.  While at the #2 civil division, he was part of the team of people drafting the #4 Company Law interpretation and has been at the #4 Circuit Court in Zhengzhou since the beginning of this year.  He continued to work with his #2 civil division colleagues on the Company Law interpretation and somehow find time to write articles on the interpretation, including one comparing US corporation law with the new Company Law interpretation, the latter published posthumously.

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Judge Fang in meeting at 4th Circuit with Columbia Law School Prof. Benjamin Liebman & others, May, 2017

SPC-related media obituaries range from the very official (on the SPC website) to the more personal (this one with quotes from several of his former colleagues). Early indications are that Judge Fang may also become a “model judge” (like Judge Zou Bihua) as SPC President Zhou Qiang and Executive Vice President Shen Deyong have already said that others should learn from Judge Fang. Judge Fang was posthumously awarded the title of “national excellent judge.”

Query whether Judge Fang’s death might indicate that the SPC’s circuit court model is too “lean and mean.” Statistics issued by the SPC in August indicate that almost half of all cases accepted by the SPC in the first half of this year have been accepted by the circuit courts, meaning that circuit court judges are under extreme pressure to deal with cases that are complicated/involving large amounts in dispute on time, and discrete inquiries indicate that many are working weekends and into the night.  Like Fang, many of them who were involved in judicial interpretation drafting when working at SPC headquarters continue to provide input to the work of their colleagues at SPC headquarters and are pulled into other research and writing projects.  And like Fang, working in a circuit court means that they away from their families.

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Judge Fang, center, singing karaoke

When singing karaoke recently, he changed the lyrics of a song to say “live as a fourth circuit person, die as a fourth circuit spirit.” 还说:“生是四巡人,死是四巡鬼”

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SPC reveals new Belt & Road-related initiatives

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Judge Liu Guixiang (SPC judicial committee member & head of #1 Circuit Court) speaking at conference

In late September (2017), the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) held a Belt & Road judicial conference with senior judges from 16 jurisdictions in the desert oasis of Dunhuang, famed for its Buddhist caves.  As is its custom at its international conferences, the SPC released some information concerning previously unknown cross-border related initiatives, both of which have implications for the international business and legal communities.  The English language reports of the conference (in China Daily and related media outlets)  missed the implications.  A brief article in one of the SPC’s Wechat accounts reveals that:

  • SPC is drafting a judicial interpretation on the recognition and enforcement of foreign civil & commercial judgments (关于承认和执行外国法院民商事判决若干问题的规定);
  • SPC is considering establishing a Belt & Road International Commercial Court (literally “Tribunal”) (“一带一路”国际商事法庭). (chief of the SPC’s #4 Civil Division, Judge Zhang Yongjian, must have been speaking of this when he was interviewed during the 2017 National People’s Congress meeting).

Enforcing foreign civil judgments

A recent decision by a Wuhan court to enforce a California default judgment has received worldwide attention, both professional and academic. with some noting nothing had really changed and Professor Donald Clarke correctly wondering whether an instruction had come from on high.  With this news from Judge Liu, it is clear that the Wuhan decision is part of the Chinese courts’ rethink of its approach to recognizing and enforcing foreign court judgments.

Judge Liu revealed that the judicial interpretation will set out details regarding the meaning of “reciprocity” and standards for applying it (明确互惠原则具体适用的标准).  In another recent article, an SPC judge considered the matter of reciprocity in more detail.  Among the issues she mentioned were: 1) China not being a party to the Hague Convention on the Choice of Courts (this obstacle has been removed as China signed the Convention on 12 September 2017 (this article has a good overview); 2) China should actively participate in the drafting of the Hague Convention on the Recognition & Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (this seems to be happening, as this blog has reported).  The SPC judge recognized that the current Chinese position has significant limitations and can lead to a great deal of parallel litigation (see Professor Vivienne Bath‘s scholarship on this).  The SPC judge also suggested that the standards set out in mutual judicial assistance agreements could be useful in drafting standards for reviewing the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.

Belt & Road Commercial Court

Judge Liu also mentioned that the SPC would establish a Belt & Road dispute resolution mechanism and that the SPC was considering a Belt & Road commercial tribunal, to provide the parties of OBOR countries with fair, efficient, and low-cost one-stop legal services.  It is clear from discrete developments that the SPC is looking to Singapore’s International Commercial Court and the Dubai’s International Finance Centre Courts (DIFC).  One of those discrete developments is the cooperation agreement that the Shanghai Higher People’s Court and Dubai International Finance Centre Court signed in October 2016 (reported here), which must have required the concurrence of the SPC. The other discrete development is the memorandum of understanding on legal and judicial cooperation between the SPC and Singapore Supreme Court, signed in August 2017, relating to mutual recognition and enforcement of monetary judgments, judicial training for judges, and the Belt & Road initiative.

The details of the SPC’s  Belt & Road commercial court (tribunal) are yet unclear.  Both the DIFC and Singapore International Commercial Court have a panel of international judges, but a similar institution in China would be inconsistent with Chinese legislation.  The SPC is clearly interested in promoting mediation to resolve Belt & Road disputes. This interest is visible from the September 2017 International Mediation conference in Hangzhou, at which Judge Long Fei, director of one of the sections in the SPC’s Judicial Reform Office, spoke on the benefits of international commercial mediation.

Perhaps the SPC envisions an institution analogous to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and plans to cooperate more on resolving Belt & Road commercial disputes with UNCITRAL and other international organizations.  We will need to see how this further develops.

It is also unclear whether the SPC will issue a draft judicial interpretation or draft regulations on the Belt & Road dispute resolution center for public comment.  Although President Zhou Qiang and Executive Vice President Shen Deyong speak of the benefits of judicial transparency, it seems the benefits of public participation in judicial interpretation drafting /rule-making have yet to be fully realized.