Judge Liu Guixiang speaking at the China Arbitration Summit
At China’s Arbitration Summit in late September, Liu Guixiang, Chief Judge of the #1 Circuit Court, called attention to a notice that the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued earlier this year to strengthen judicial review of arbitration. The notice (Notice concerning some questions regarding the centralized handling of judicial review of arbitration cases关于仲裁司法审件归口办理有关问题的通知) is linked to the likely increasing number of cases involving judicial review of arbitration matters, linked to the increasing number of arbitrations involving Chinese parties (and the One Belt One Road initiative) both in China and elsewhere in the world, including Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre. (The notice highlights data collection problems).
The notice, reproduced below, is not an SPC judicial interpretation. Unlike judicial interpretations, notices are not required to be published. It seems that the SPC itself has not officially published it, but several official websites have published it, as have a number of Wechat accounts.
A quick search reveals that the notice drew on a 2014 study by the Guangdong courts summarizing the results of pilot projects (including Shenzhen) that the SPC commissioned, involving cooperation with the now independent Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration. As is usual, Guangdong and Shenzhen have led the way as pilot areas for judicial reform. The study highlighted a list of problems with the way lower courts review arbitration related issues, including lack of consistency in reviewing cases. The study also highlighted problems in tracking case data.
As Judge Liu also mentioned (as has this blog), the SPC is working on a comprehensive judicial interpretation on that subject). That judicial interpretation is still being drafted, with the #4 Civil Division of the SPC taking the lead.
A very rough translation and some comments written in italics follow. (Many thanks to an anonymous and well-informed follower of this blog for bringing the notice to my attention and for some thoughts.) Please call translation glitches/mistakes to my attention.
Supreme People’s Court
Notice Concerning Some Questions regarding the centralized handling of judicial review of arbitration cases
Fa (2017) #152
To the provincial, autonomous region, directly administered municipality higher people’s courts, People’s Liberation Army Military Court, Production and Construction Corps Branch of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Higher People’s Court:
To try correctly judicial review of arbitration cases according to law and guarantee a unified yardstick for judicial decision-making, protect the legal rights of parties, promote the healthy and orderly development of arbitration matters and the establishment of a diverse dispute resolution mechanism, we notify the various levels of the people’s court handling judicial review of arbitration cases of the following:
I. The trial divisions (collegial panels) trying foreign-related commercial cases shall be the specialized trial divisions (below, “specialized trial divisions) responsible for undertaking the judicial review of arbitration as set out in this notice.
This means that SPC is requiring trial divisions (or collegial panels, in smaller courts) handling foreign-related commercial matters to be responsible for reviewing the arbitration related matters described in the next paragraph. It is a plus for competency/consistency in arbitration-related matters.
II. In cases in which a party applies to have the validity of an arbitration agreement recognized, cases in which application is made to cancel a domestic arbitration commission’s award, cases in which application is made to recognize (认可) and enforce a Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR arbitration award, recognize (认可) and enforce a Taiwan area arbitration award, application is made to recognize (承认) and enforce a foreign arbitral award, shall be handled by the specialized trial divisions of each level of court.
This paragraph describes the types of cases covered by the notice–the types of judicial review of arbitration matters and that these cases should be handled by the specialized trial division of each level of court designated in the paragraph I. There is a difference in terminology (bolded above, but not in the original Chinese) when referring to the recognition of arbitral awards from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as distinguished from foreign arbitral awards, emphasizing that awards from these jurisdictions are considered part of “one country.” Notice that cases involving domestic arbitration awards or disputes over the validity of an arbitration agreement to submit a dispute to domestic arbitration are also to be reviewed by the specialized trial division. A big plus for consistency and competency in judicial review of arbitration matters.
When a specialized trial division, after review, has ruled to recognize and enforce a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macau Special Administrative Region, Taiwan Region arbitration award, recognize and enforce a foreign arbitral award, the enforcement shall be transferred to the enforcement departments for enforcement.
III. When the first instance court makes a ruling which relates to the validity of an arbitration agreement relating not to accept, to reject a filing or objection to jurisdiction, and a party disagrees with the ruling and appeals, the specialized trial division of the second instance court should handle it.
This provision channels appeals relating to arbitration matters to specialists in the second instance courts, again a plus for competency and consistency.
IV. Each level of people’s court should establish a centralized administrative platform for the judicial review of arbitration awards, to strengthen the informatized management and data analysis of cases regarding applications to confirm the validity of an arbitation agreement, cases regarding applications to cancel or enforce arbitration awards of our domestic arbitration institutions, applications to recognize and enforce Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macau Special Administrative Region, Taiwan Region arbitration awards, cases regarding applications to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards, and cases relating to the judicial review of arbitration such as refusal to accept, reject the filing, or objection to jurisdiction and others relating to the confirmation of the validity of an arbitration agreement; the effective guarantee of the correct application of law and of a unified yardstick for judicial decision-making. The #4 Civil Division of the Supreme People’s Court and the People’s Courts Information Technology Service Center shall be specifically responsible for this work.
IV. This paragraph requires a platform to be established to enable better data collection of arbitration related cases. Data collection appears to be an ongoing issue for the courts. 2015 SPC rules on case file numbers (thank you to Chinalawtranslate.com for this translation), are aimed to create more consistency in filing numbers for cases, and will also be helpful in this process. Inconsistency in case files numbers was identified as a problem in the Guangdong study.) The SPC’s #4 Civil Division (in charge of cross-border civil and commercial matters) and the Information Technology Service Center are the ones responsible for ensuring this platform works. The notice does not require data results to be made public. The legal and professional public (in China and elsewhere in the world) would look forward to regular big data reports on this.
Supreme People’s Court
May 22, 2017
If you like this blogpost, please join the East Asian Legal Studies Center of Harvard Law School in supporting the Supreme People’s Court Monitor.