By Susan Finder, drawing on research by Sun Dongyu (Christopher)
In October 2022, Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang delivered a report to the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee on foreign-related adjudication work since the 18th Party Congress (党的十八大以来人民法院涉外审判工作情况) (Foreign-Related Adjudication Work Report). Under NPC legislation, this type of report is classified as a specialized report (专项报告). In the New Era, the SPC delivers such reports to the NPC Standing Committee annually. Han Xiaowu, the deputy head of the Supervisory and Judicial Affairs Committee of the NPC, in an article reviewing the supervisory powers of the NPC Standing Committee, described listening to and reviewing specialized reports as a significant means by which the NPC Standing Committee exercises its supervision authority over other institutions. The SPC has published a collection of these reports issued since the 18th Party Congress, pictured above.
This blogpost provides a dive into the law and practice of these specialized reports, focusing on reports prepared by the SPC. A subsequent post will focus on the content of the Foreign-Related Adjudication Work Report.
Specialized Reports & the Relationship between the NPC and SPC
Most people with basic knowledge about the operation of the Chinese legal system know that the SPC president delivers a report to the NPC annually, every spring. Less known is that the SPC president also gives specialized reports to the NPC Standing Committee, under the Law on Oversight by Standing Committees of People’s Congresses at Various Levels (People’s Congresses Oversight Law). According to the NPC Observer, that law is scheduled to be updated. The details of NPC Standing Committee supervision of the SPC through specialized reports provide one discrete example of how Party leadership of legal institutions is implemented in practice and the interrelationship among state legal institutions.
The People’s Congresses Oversight Law authorizes the NPC Standing Committee to supervise the SPC, Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), and the government in several ways, one of which is requiring these institutions to provide specialized reports, as set out in the NPC Standing Committee’s annual plan. Han Xiaowu described them as drawn up according to the work deployment of the Party Center ( 中央的工作部署). Articles 8 and 9 of the People’s Congresses’ Oversight Law provide some basic principles concerning the topics of those specialized reports. It is understood that early in the year, the NPC’s Supervisory and Judicial Affairs Committee communicates with the SPC (and analogously with the other institutions that the NPC Standing Committee supervises), to set the topic and timing of the specialized report. It is likely that the SPC’s General Office, which is responsible for inter-institutional liaison, is the entity within the SPC that works out the details with the NPC Standing Committee.
A quick search on Wechat reveals that foreign-related adjudication work was part of the overall supervision plan of the NPC Standing Committee in 2022. It meant that the NPC Standing Committee allocated significant time to investigating how Chinese courts hear foreign-related cases. Official reports on Wechat flag that senior NPC Standing leaders went to certain provinces to investigate how local courts heard foreign-related cases as well as understand local developments relating to juvenile procuratorial work. In the summer of 2022. Cao Jianming, vice chair of the NPC Standing Committee (and former senior SPC leader and procurator-general) visited Jiangsu and Guangdong in the summer of 2022, while Hao Mingjin visited Fujian. In each case, according to bureaucratic protocol, senior leaders of the SPC and SPP accompanied the NPC Standing Committee leaders, who in turn had senior NPC Standing Committee staff in attendance.
These visits (described as research/调研) were consolidated into a report provided to the SPC (non-public), as revealed by the Foreign-Related Adjudication Work Report. It also enabled the NPC Standing Committee leaders to monitor how well the SPC and SPP respectively supervise and guide the lower courts and procuratorates in their work, politically and substantively, monitor local developments and the interaction among local institutions. Cao Jianming told senior leaders in Jiangsu that they must adhere to the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, resolutely implement the decision-making and deployment of the Party Central Committee, the work deployment of the SPC and the requirements of the provincial party committee. Cao reiterated principles for which local court leaders need no reminders–that they must thoroughly study and implement Xi Jinping’s thoughts on the rule of law, deeply understand the significance of foreign-related rule of law work, focus on researching new situations and new problems, improve systems and mechanisms, and continuously improve the level of foreign-related adjudication work.
The People’s Congresses Oversight Law provides further details concerning specialized reports. It requires the NPC Standing Committee to gather some questions to send to the SPC (or other institution providing a report), presumably intended to highlight issues that the NPC Standing Committee requires to be incorporated in the report. The procedure requires the SPC to send its draft report to the relevant specialized NPC committee 20 days before the formal report is delivered. Presumably, Han Xiaowu was involved in the review of the Foreign-Related Adjudication Work Report. If the SPC amends the draft report, it must be submitted to the NPC Standing Committee at least 10 days before that date, so the revised report can be distributed to the members. The head of the institution must deliver the report, which is discussed by members. The results of the discussions of the reports are forwarded to the SPC (or other reporting institutions), which must respond to them. The issues that the NPC Standing Committee raises with the institution providing the specialized report are made public in summary form. What is occasionally made public is the SPC (or other institution’s) response to the comments of NPC Standing Committee members. As I have not seen the SPC’s response to comments on last October’s report, I presume that the SPC has not yet finalized a response to the comments. Presumably, the #4 Civil Division would take the lead in drafting the response, which would be reviewed by the vice president in charge of that division, and likely by the SPC president. The NPC Observer discusses responses to reports in this blogpost.
Those who have been involved with the specialized report process explain that both institutions see benefits in the NPC Standing Committee requiring specialized reports of the SPC. The NPC Standing Committee sees it as an effective way of exercising its supervision (oversight) authority over the SPC, while the SPC sees it as an effective way to display its competence while providing a forum to raise issues that require the involvement of the NPC Standing Committee. It can also be said to be another way in which Party leadership of the courts (and other institutions) is indirectly implemented.
The specialized report procedure is a less understood way in which the NPC and its Standing Committee supervise (监督 oversees) the SPC and implement Party leadership, and provides an example of how the SPC is institutionally both more and less powerful than other apex courts.