For those with the ability (or at least the patience) to decode Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang’s March, 2018 report to the National People’s Congress, it provides insights into the Chinese courts, economy, and society, and of course politics. This blogpost will address selected aspects of the second and third parts of the report because of competing time demands.
To most of the world, President Zhou Qiang’s reports to the National People’s Congress (NPC) differ little from year to year. However to President Zhou Qiang and the team of people tasked with preparing a draft that would not be thrown back in their faces, the challenges in 2018 were more formidable than previously. This year’s report needed to highlight the SPC’s achievements of the last five years, signal that its work in the next year is harmonized with the post-19th Party Congress New Era, and hit the right notes with NPC delegates, who have in the past voted against court reports in significant numbers.
According to this report, the drafting group, which started work in late October (after the 19th Party Congress), and as anyone familiar with China today would expect, communicated through Wechat. The high stakes report meant that President Zhou Qiang summoned members for drafting sessions during the Chinese new year holiday. The group submitted 37 drafts to President Zhou Qiang and other senior leaders, and as this blog reported in previous years on this blog, senior court leaders traveled the country to seek the views of NPC delegates and many others.
This means (as I have written before, and I have discussed in greater detail in a forthcoming paper) that the statistics have been specially selected.
The summary below (part 2) is not comprehensive but provides some highlights. It signals that the work of the SPC is perfectly synchronized with national policy.
Judicial protection of human rights
The second section of the speech touched on correction and prevention of “mistaken cases,” a topic mentioned in previous NPC reports, and still an ongoing issue. Over the past five years, 6747 criminal cases have been reopened and retried. Among the measures the report mentions is:
- policy documents on preventing mistaken cases;
- the courts implementing principles of evidence-based judgments; (note that China does not yet have detailed criminal evidence rules, but see Judge Yu Tongzhi‘s remarks at a high profile criminal evidence conference on 19-20 May for the latest thinking of the SPC’s criminal divisions)
- “no conviction in case of doubt;” (most useful discussions of this are behind academic publishers’ paywalls);
- strictly implementing the death penalty; (as mentioned in earlier blogposts, there have been calls within China to be more transparent on the numbers, but this decision likely needs top-level clearance);
- improving legal aid in criminal cases, piloting in some provinces (including Guangdong) full coverage at all levels; [note Art. 21 of these regulations reveal concern about lawyers stirring up troubles, with language similar to Ministry of Justice regulations (不得恶意炒作案件，对案件进行歪曲、有误导性的宣传和评论);
Courts serve economic policy goals
This section highlighted the SPC’s accomplishments in supporting national economic policy goals. The statistics are all for the past five years. Many of these topics have been previously discussed on this blog:
- Commercial cases: the Chinese courts heard 16,438,000 first instance cases (in the last five years), up almost 54%;
- the SPC promoted bankruptcy trials, including developing a national bankruptcy information platform (limited information available–related blogpost here); issued a policy document on transferring cases from enforcement proceedings to bankruptcy; dealt with zombie enterprises by hearing and closing 12,000 bankruptcy cases (over the last five years); issued a company law judicial interpretation; heard and closed 4,106.000 sales tcontracts and 1,320,000 real estate cases.
- The SPC served major economic strategies, through issuing 16 measures related to Chinese companies engaging in foreign trade and investment, and the Belt & Road. It established a coordination mechanism for the Beijing, Hebei, and Tianjin courts (blogpost here). The northeastern courts have provided judicial services to the region’s rejuvenation (see previous blogposts on some of the many legal and social issues); Guangdong, Fujian, etc. courts have provided services to Free Trade Zones;
- In the area of finance-related cases, the courts have prevented and resolved financial risk (a concern of the day) by:
- issuing a policy document on financial cases (post the 2017 Financial Work Conference, on the Monitor’s to-do list),
- trying and closing 5,030,000 finance-related cases (including insurance, securities, and financial institution loans),
- trying and closing 7,059,000 private lending cases, 152,000 internet finance cases;
- struck at illegal fund-raising etc. (no statistics). Expect to see more cases in this area in 2018.
4. SPC has improved judicial protection of entrepreneur’s property rights by issuing 17 policy documents (the number may indicate the depth of the problem) (see related blogposts).
5. SPC has supported national innovation policy through issuing an outline on judicial intellectual property (IP) protection, hearing and closing 683,000 IP cases, working on strategies to deal with the issue for both Chinese and foreign IP holders that in China, IP infringement is low cost but protecting IP rights is high cost, trying the Jordan case and the Huawei v. IDC case.
6. In the area of environmental protection, the SPC has issued an interpretation on public interest litigation, and concluded 487,000 environmental civil cases, with 11,000 cases of compensation for ecological environmental damages, 1,383 cases of environmental public interest litigation initiated by the procuracy (one of my students is looking into this), and 252 environmental public interest litigation cases were filed by social organizations.
7. In foreign-related cases, the Chinese courts concluded 75,000 foreign-related commercial and civil cases (note they account for a tiny proportion of cases in the Chinese courts). Although the SPC says that more and more foreign parties have agreed to settle disputes in the Chinese courts, Professor Vivienne Bath’s research has shown that foreign parties are often dragged into the Chinese courts because of principles in Chinese law leading to parallel proceedings. The protection of “judicial sovereignty” has multiple implications (some explained in the linked article). This year, after several years of drafting, the SPC has issued a set of three judicial interpretations on the judicial review of arbitration. Supporting the national strategy of increasing its maritime power, the Chinese courts have heard 72,000 maritime first instance cases. The SPC describes the maritime courts as effectively safeguarding the country’s maritime security and judicial sovereignty.
9. On foreign judicial exchanges, the SPC has handled 15,000 international judicial assistance cases (in fact both Chinese and foreign practitioners complain about how long assistance takes); and the SPC has used international conferences to promote its international role, particularly vis a vis Belt & Road countries.