Supreme People’s Court & the new campaign to “sweep away black & eliminate evil”

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 11.21.40 AMLast week, China announced the latest campaign to “sweep away black and eliminate evil,” saohei chu’e (扫黑除恶),“Concerning the Carrying Out of a Special Action to Sweep Away Black and Eliminate Evil” (关于开展扫黑除恶专项行动的通知) (full text not yet released) with Xinhua news reporting that it reflects it reflects the leadership’s  outlook on security and people-centered governance thought.  The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) is an integral part of the campaign and was one of the institutions (along with the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Public Security, and Ministry of Justice) that issued a guiding opinion (办理黑恶势力犯罪案件的指导意见) on how the campaign is to be carried out (text found here). As previously discussed on this blog (and in a forthcoming article), there is no transparency requirement for guiding opinions and other “judicial normative documents” that are not judicial interpretations.  What has been made transparent (in a quick dive into the Wechatosphere) is that the SPC is both clarifying the criminal law issues to the legal community and signalling through releasing typical cases and other actions that lower authorities should not use the campaign to confiscate the property of private entrepreneurs. But will other imperatives trump that signal?

  1. Clarifying the legal issues

Although the commentators in this Voice of America program weren’t aware of it, there is a body of (confusing) legislation, partially described in this book chapter (somewhat outdated).  The authoritative (because it is published by the five criminal divisions of the SPC)  Reference to Criminal Trial (刑事审判参考), had published a special issue (issue #107) on organized crime law last summer. (For those of us who read more quickly in English, the editors have helpfully compiled an English translation of the table of contents. (see below)

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In his 29 January Wechat posting on his 说刑品案 (“Speak About Criminal Law, Evaluate Cases”) Wechat account, its editor, Judge Yu Tongzhi (于同志), a judge in the #2 Criminal Division and one of the editors of Reference to Criminal Trial, set out 20 Q & A’s with guidance on the legal issues (derived from last summer’s issue).

Judge Yu described the posting as to “coordinate” (配合) with this campaign, but is the author’s way of saying that the law on these issues is confusing and all involved, whether they are judges, prosecutors, public security or defense lawyers need an authoritative steer through the forest of law, judicial interpretations, and other guidance.   As is apparent from the photo above, the guidance includes a 2015 conference summary on organized crime, guiding cases (指导案例)(not to confused with those guiding cases (指导性案例 issued by the SPC itself), authoritative commentary on the 2015 conference summary, major cases, and discussions by judges of difficult legal issues. The guidance posted often illustrates answers with examples from the guiding cases and cautions that standards should not be improperly expanded, such as the definition of a “gang member.”  He does not include a summary of the law on property seizure, the subject of one of the articles in issue #107.

Some of the organized crime legal issues are analogous to those in other jurisdictions and last year one of the SPC websites published a long article analyzing this area of law (and its problems), suggesting that China look to US RICO legislation.

The first of the 20 questions is:

  1. What’s the connection between the 2015 and 2009  conference summaries on organized crime?

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of either conference summary, as neither one seems to have been incorporated in any of the major translation databases.  As to what conference summaries are, Conference summaries are what the SPC entitles “judicial normative documents”  (there are a number of titles for these) and often address new issues or areas of law in which the law is not settled.   “Conference summaries” are also a form of Communist Party/government document.

The relationship is addressed in the article on the application of the 2015 conference summary by several heads of SPC criminal divisions in issue #107.  Their view is that the two conference summaries should be read together, which the later one taken as an elaboration of the first, with newer provisions superseding the older ones.

The campaign & private entrepreneurs

The second signal that the SPC is sending is that the “sweep away black and eliminate evil” campaign should not be used to abuse private entrepreneurs.  On 30 January, the SPC issued seven typical cases on protecting private property rights and the rights of entrepreneurs, one of which involves a case that occurred during the 2008 “strike black” campaign.  As summarized in China Daily,  the Liaoning Public Security Department arrested Liu Hua and Liu Jie in a 2008 criminal investigation and seized 20 million yuan (about 3.16 million U.S. dollars) in funds from their company, Beipeng Real Estate Development Co. Ltd. in Shenyang. In 2014, a local court in Benxi convicted the two and the company of illegal occupation of farmland but exempted them from criminal punishment. Liaoning Public Security refused to return the seized funds and related financial documents were not returned.  SPC Vice President Tao Kaiyuan SPC Vice President Tao Kaiyuan acted as the chief judge, and the SPC’s State Compensation Committee ruled the Liaoning Public Security Department should return the funds with  interest. Judge Hu Yunteng and the  #2 Circuit Court  were involved in this as well. Company counsel’s detailed account of this case (highly recommended!) found here. Judge Zhu Heqing, Deputy head of the #3 Criminal Division, discussed in the article mentioned above in #107 the problems with the law and practice of property seizures, such as the lack of a definition of “organized crime related property” (涉黑财物) and related seizure procedures, as well as the lack of procedures to require the return of property improperly seized.

Some thoughts

As the document on implementing this campaign has not been released, we cannot know whether it includes performance targets that will lead local authorities to “round the usual suspects up.” What is apparent from the Wechat posting and much more from issue #107, is that the law is this area is unclear, lacks procedures for protecting the property of the entities involved (not to mention the entrepreneurs), and can be easily abused by local authorities.  As we know from the case above and other cases, entrepreneurs will then spend years seeking the return of their property.  The SPC must coordinate with this latest campaign while protecting the rights of entrepreneurs, and avoid a new set of mistaken cases.

 

 

 

 

Supreme People’s Court & Supreme Court Justice Roberts’ 2017 year-end report

download-2Chief Justice John Roberts of the United States Supreme Court may be surprised to learn that a translated version of his 2017 year-end report on the federal courts was recently published by the People’s Court Daily, as it has been for the past twelve years. It was republished by Wechat and Weibo sites affiliated with the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and other prominent Wechat public accounts and legal websites. What significance does the report have?

The translators that bring the year-end reports to Chinese readers are Mr. Huang Bin (formerly of the SPC’s China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence and now of the National Judicial College, a former Yale Law School visiting scholar) and Ms. Yang Yi (China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence, a former Columbia Law School visiting scholar).

Two subjects in Justice Roberts’ 2017 report are likely to resonate with Chinese readers. The first is how the federal courts dealt with national disasters in 2017 (introductory comments in some of the Wechat versions mention that China has only scattered legislative provisions related to emergency measures for the courts). The second is sexual harassment and Justice Roberts’ request to the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to organize a working group to review the code of conduct for the federal judiciary, guidance to employees on issues of confidentiality and reporting of instances of misconduct, and rules for investigating and processing misconduct complaints.

The #Metoo movement has not yet explicitly affected the Chinese courts. However, it is likely that Chief Justice Roberts’ acknowledgment that existing rules and structures for dealing with sexual harassment complaints are inadequate that resonates with Chinese women judges and judicial support staff, who make an increasingly large percentage of the Chinese judiciary. It seems likely (confirmed by discrete inquiries) that sexual harassment occurs in Chinese courts as well.

More broadly, what relevance does Justice Robert’s report and others on the US federal and state judiciary have for the Chinese judiciary after the 19th Party Congress, when in October, 2017 Communist Party Central Committee policy on the training of judges and prosecutors lists first resolutely opposing erosion by the mistaken Western rule of law viewpoint” (坚决抵制西方错误法治观点侵蚀)? To the careful observer, the publication of these reports and other articles on specific issues in SPC publications means that the senior and lower levels of the Chinese courts have an ongoing interest in what the US federal and state courts are doing and look to commonalities and takeaways (despite the vast differences in the two systems).

Another example of the Chinese courts looking to commonalities with the US courts occurred earlier this month (January) when the China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence published a Chinese summary of the National Center for State Courts’ 2017 survey on public confidence in the state courts. The article appears to be a republication of an article previously published internally and reflects the concern of the Chinese judiciary with public trust.

The takeaways, that is referring to or borrowing foreign legal concepts or models to reform China’s judicial system remains politically sensitive. In Party General Secretary and President Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress speech, he called for the continuation of judicial reform:

We will carry out comprehensive and integrated reform of the judicial system and enforce judicial accountability in all respects, so that the people can see in every judicial case that justice is served.

 Earlier in 2017, when visiting the China University of Political Science and Law, Xi Jinping cautioned that Chinese legal reform does not mean wholesale adoption of foreign law and institutions:

China shall actively absorb and refer to successful legal practices worldwide, but they must be filtered, they must be selectively absorbed and transformed, they may not be swallowed whole and copied (对世界上的优秀法治文明成果,要积极吸收借鉴,也要加以甄别,有选择地吸收和转化,不能囫囵吞枣、照搬照抄).

What a careful observer notices from monitoring SPC media is that those involved with reform of discrete areas of Chinese legislation and judicial practice continue (in the pre/post 19th Party Congress era) to look at US federal/state law (and other foreign law) structures and practices, including: use of mediation in federal appeals cases; bankruptcy practicereform of Chinese nuclear safety legislation to broaden the scope of information released to the public, that is in specific areas that do not involve basic principles of the Chinese courts.

 

 

 

Supreme People’s Court Monitor’s 2017 year-end report

 

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SPC court handbooks & monthly bulletins from the 1980s & 1990s

A change in this year-end report, with some stories as well as thank yous.

In 2017, the Supreme People’s Court Monitor published 41 posts and had over 33,000 page views, from 155 jurisdictions, primarily from:

  • United States;
  • Hong Kong;
  • (mainland) China; and
  • Australia.

with the United Kingdom, Germany, and Singapore trailing.

Since founding almost five years ago:

Views: 108,990
Jurisdictions: 183
Posts: 212

Most followers use Twitter to follow the Monitor.Although Twitter is not accessible in mainland China without a VPN, 26% of the Monitor’s Twitter followers are based there.

Thank yous

Thank you to:

  •  the booksellers (likely long retired) who sold me the SPC court handbooks & bulletins in the 1990s, opening for me a door into the world of the Chinese judiciary;
  • my colleagues and students at the School of Transnational Law, Peking University (Shenzhen);
  • my fellow bloggers Jeremy Daum (Chinalawtranslate.com), Wei Changhao (npcobserver.com, Mark Cohen (Chinaipr.com), and Eugene Fidell (globalmjreform.blogspot.com);
  • the law schools and other institutions around the world, that have listed my blog as a Chinese law resource;
  • law and political science professors who have recommended the Monitor to students and many others in other institutions who have provided support in various ways;
  • journalists and scholars writing about the Chinese judiciary who have cited the Monitor;
  • organizers of conferences and other events in Beijing, Shanghai, Leiden, Cologne, Hong Kong, and Sydney. One Shanghai event attracted several “mature students” from the local authorities, apparently interested to know more about the challenges Chinese students could face studying law in the US;
  • Certain members of the Chinese legal community:
    • judges and others currently or formerly affiliated with the SPC and local courts, who helped me understand the Chinese court and legal system in countless ways;
    • lawyers, arbitrators and other legal professionals who have done the same;
    • administrators of the Wechat public accounts who published my articles; and
    • those who had the fortitude to read early drafts of articles and give frank comments, particularly the person who asked the classic question “what are you trying to say?!”  (The much-improved article will be published this year.)

Finally, thank you very much to the East Asian Legal Studies program of Harvard Law School for supporting the Monitor.  I hope their example will lead to the greater recognition of the importance of understanding the Chinese legal system (with its many special characteristics).

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    School of Transnational Law, 29 December