The hunt for Chinese court white papers

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Winnie the Pooh & Piglet hunting for Woozles ©Ernst Shepard

In recent years, many Chinese courts have prepared and published white papers and research papers on specific topics with detailed statistics and analysis, a major step forward in transparency from the early 1990s. This blog has analyzed or mentioned several of them.  Many, on topics that include sexual assault on minors, real estate disputes, drug crimes, home renovation, and labor disputes remain to be discussed.  Releasing these reports to the general public is part of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC)’s efforts to promote greater openness. (Some research papers are for internal use only, but this post discusses only those cleared for public release). SPC President Zhou Qiang has mentioned increasing the courts’ release of white papers as one of the SPC’s many achievements in his reports to the National People’s Congress and its standing committee.  The efforts to promote the use of white papers date back to at least 2009 when the SPC issued a policy document on judicial statistics that stated:

Establish a public release system for judicial statistical data. Increase the publicity of judicial statistical information, hold a press conference to release judicial statistical information on a regular basis, actively explore the establishment of a white paper system for judicial statistics….

As those of us looking closely at the operation of the Chinese courts know,  court white papers and research reports are often based on statistical data from various internal sources and contain analysis by judges who have dealt with these cases.  Although these white papers and research reports are valuable for their statistics and related analysis, they are not always published on the internet, such as on the website of the court that issued the report. For the conscientious researcher, it is annoying  (not to mention a waste of valuable time) to find articles on court websites and local media reporting on the public release of a white paper or research report, but without a link to the full-text report.   I am facing this issue yet again in trying to do research for an essay (on a non-sensitive topic) to be included in a book edited by one of the members of the SPC’s International Commercial Expert Committee.

For example:

Tianjin high court’s 2018 Belt & Road white paper, report here 

As to why the full-text of white papers or reports are not published on the internet, reasons could include:

  1.  Anxiety on the part of the leaders of the court regarding the consequences of public distribution of these reports among the affected institutions, including companies, Party/government authorities, and higher courts (This rationale was advanced by an experienced judge whose court had not publicly released white papers until recently),
  2. Court leaders see the submission of the white paper or research report to their higher level court (or to local government) as having fulfilled their duty to have issued it and are not concerned about or aware that its public release is important.
  3. The court website infrastructure lacks sufficient capacity to host the paper.

For those courts with the infrastructure to host PDF or html versions of their white or research papers,  the Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xiamen maritime courts provide good examples–all post white papers on the front page of their websites (or on their Wechat public accounts), making them easily accessible to the researcher.  I would expect that Zhao Hong, the president of the new Shanghai Financial Court,  formerly the president of the Shanghai Maritime Court, would carry on the practice of her former court. Both the SPC and the Shanghai higher and intermediate courts have something to learn from these maritime courts (see this white paper hidden on a Shanghai higher court webpage), not to mention many other localities.   Many of the research reports prepared by SPC divisions appear to be published in division publications, such as Reference to Criminal Trial (刑事审判参考) or Guide to Foreign-Related and Maritime Trial (涉外商事海事审判指导). The Shenzhen intermediate people’s court recently issued a bilingual white paper on bankruptcy, seemingly only available directly from the court.  Why the court leadership required a bilingual version but did not make it widely available is a mystery yet to be solved.