What to Expect in the Fifth Round of Judicial Reforms

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On July 24, the Chinese authorities held the first post-19th Party Congress national conference  on judicial reform in Shenzhen, entitled “Promoting Comprehensive Deepening of Judicial Reform.”  Holding the conference in Shenzhen is significant, because it is considered synonymous with reform and openness. The leaders on the podium in the photo above (members of the Leading Small Group on Judicial Reform) (all men), include:

  1. Secretary of the Central Political Legal Committee, Guo Shengkun (Guo);
  2. President of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), Zhou Qiang;
  3. Chief Procurator General Zhang Jun;
  4. Central Military Commission Political Legal Committee Party Secretary;
  5. Minister of Public Security;
  6. Minister of State Security;
  7. Commander of the People’s Armed Police.

Attendees of the conference included the Party Secretaries of the Political Legal Committees of all provinces/autonomous regions/cities, and likely senior leaders from all of the systems.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised that comprehensive deepening of judicial reform was the subject of the conference as a December, 2017, blogpost flagged that the new phraseology is “deepen the reform of the judicial system with comprehensive integrated reforms” (深化司法体制改革综合配套改革) (and there is a significant overlap with some of the issues Judge Jiang mentioned). The language is found deep in Xi Jinping’s 19th Communist Party Congress Report.

The quick (and incomplete) summary below is of some of the court-related issues from the report of Guo’s speech at the conference that He Fan (head of the planning section of the SPC’s judicial reform office) posted on his Wechat public account.  He was one of the many attendees.   None of the analysis below (in italics) should be attributed to him.

It can be expected that the court-related issues will be incorporated into the next judicial reform plan outline. What is on the court-related reform list?  What issues remain unresolved?

  1. Strengthen and optimize Communist Party leadership, Scientifically position the responsibilities and boundaries of the Party Committee, Political and Legal Committee, strengthen functions such as overall coordination, planning and deployment, supervision and implementation.   This of course listed first.What does this mean in practice for judicial system and particularly the operation of the criminal justice system, such as the ongoing campaign against organized crime (see this earlier blogpost)? 
  2.  Clarify the functions of the four-level courts,–improve the SPC circuit courts’ working mechanism; establish the Shanghai Financial Court, steadily expand the Internet Court pilots; explore the deepening of the reform of cross-administrative district courts and procuratorates, and explore the establishment of a national-level intellectual property appeal hearing mechanism.

Developments have occurred on some of these. The Shanghai Circuit Court will start operations soon, with regulations on its jurisdiction just issued and well-regarded judges appointed to senior positions.  The mention of an intellectual property appeals court is significant, as that has been mentioned in earlier government documents and it is on the wish list of the intellectual property law community.  The cross-administrative district courts are mentioned in the previous court reform plan, with some pilot projects. On SPC’s circuit courts are taking on a greater percentage of the SPC’s cases, (as mentioned earlier on this blog) SPC judges work in the circuit courts while their families remain in Beijing, so at some personal cost to judges involved.

3.  Improve institutional management, promote a combination of flat management and professionalization, adhere to the simultaneous transformation of comprehensive and operational entities, and promote the return of judicial personnel to the front line.  As this blog has repeatedly mentioned (and He Xin/Kwai Hang Ng have detailed in their new book, Embedded Courts), Chinese courts (as courts and political/legal institutions) have large “comprehensive offices” (engaging in functions not directly related to judicial work).  A recent study of several courts in Zhejiang province published in an academic journal affiliated with the China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence detailed the percentages. With the reduction in the number of judges and the explosion in the number of cases, there is a great amount of pressure to allocate more judges to the “front line” of handling cases.  Judges with some measure of seniority inevitably have both administrative and judicial responsibilities.

4.  Improve the supervision management mechanism of the president and division chiefs, and standardize the functions of the judicial committee, the committee of court leaders, which has a number of functions, often serving to diffuse responsibility for difficult cases  (Embedded Courts has more insights on this, and this blog has an earlier post on proposed reforms and related problems). Improve the professional judges meeting (mentioned in last year’s SPC regulations, I hope to have something more to say on this in a later blogpost). Improve the disciplinary mechanism of judges. (It would be an improvement to have greater transparency on the results.) Accelerate the construction of an electronic file with the simultaneous generation of the case and the entire process online case handling system.  This has been an ongoing proposal.  Shenzhen is taking the lead with this. Also it would be an improvement to have greater transparency on cases filed.

6. On judicial “standardization” –improve reference to similar cases, case guidelines, the guiding case mechanisms, implement mandatory search system for similar cases and related cases. We will carry out an in-depth national judicial standardization inspections.  This is sending two signals–greater implementation of China’s case law system (as I have written about earlier), and the continued use of government/Party inspection campaigns (reflecting the administrative aspects of the Chinese courts).

7. Improve the  performance appraisal system. Scientifically set the performance appraisal indicator system for handling cases, and guide judicial personnel to handle more cases, handle cases quickly, and handle cases well. Use big data technology to accurately measure the quality of the case and strive for convincing results. The assessment results are used as an important basis for the level of salary, job promotion…This is an important and unresolved issue for the Chinese courts–how to appraise judges.  Outside of China, many scholars have written about this, including Carl Minzner, William Hurst & Jonathan Kinkel. A good deal of research has been done within the Chinese court system concerning this (see this summary of a report published earlier this year by a team of Guangdong Higher People’s Court judges–discussing how the “civil servant/administrative model” predominates and suggesting that China should be looking to other jurisdictions for models, as judicial evaluation is a worldwide issue.  Case closing percentages continues to be very important for Chinese judges.  Is big data technology the answer?  Is this consistent with encouraging judges to write more reasoned decisions?  This appears to signal  a continuation of the judge as factory worker system described in this blogpost

8. In the area of criminal law, and criminal procedure, there are mixed developments.  On the one hand, greater encouragement for using the plea bargaining with Chinese characteristics (please see Jeremy Daum’s deep dive into the pilots). The merging of the arrest and prosecution stages is also mentioned.  Guo also mentioned  measures to enable appointing defense counsel in death penalty cases, having full coverage of defense counsel in criminal cases (Jeremy Daum has comments also on the system of stationing lawyers in detention houses), requiring lawyers to represent petitioners in criminal collateral appeals cases, as well as greater use of live witnesses at trial。  The National Judges College academic journal Journal of Law Application just published an article by a Beijing Higher Court judge, reviewing the duty lawyer scheme, with analogous findings to Jeremy’s.

9.  For those interested in how the supervision commission is/will affect criminal cases, Guo mentions establishing a system for linking the supervision’s investigatory system with the criminal procedure system (said to improve the battle against corruption, the question is the extent to which individual rights are protected).

10.  On foreign related matters, Guo mentions innovating foreign-related work, and improving cooperation on international enforcement and judicial cooperation.  These continue to be difficult issues, with no likely resolution in sight, particularly criminal and also civil.  As I have mentioned before China is participating in the drafting of the Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgment, but there are major inconsistencies between the provisions of the draft convention, and the Choice of Court Convention which China signed last September.

Guo highlights improving an initial appointment system for judges and procurators, expanding open recruitment so that talented people will be attracted to becoming and remain judges.  He calls for better coordination between the law schools and professional training, systems for provincial level appointment of judges (and procurators), with better policies on temporary appointment (挂职) (a system used for academics to work in the system for a period of one or two years, and judges/procurators from higher levels to work at the basic level or in a poorer area), exchanges, promotions, and resignation.

In his recommendations, Guo tips his hat to judicial (and procurator) dissatisfaction with status and pay with his statement “uphold resolving a combination of ideological and practical issues, motivate cadres and police to the greatest extent possible.” 坚持解决思想问题和解决实际问题相结合,最大限度调动政法干警积极性”-as this blog has reported, a combination of those issues, excessive work, and significant amounts of time allocated to “studying documents” has led younger experienced judges (and procurators) to decide to resign.

 

 

 

What’s on the Supreme People’s Court’s judicial interpretation agenda (II)?

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SPC General office document issuing the 2018 judicial interpretation plan

The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has a yearly plan for drafting judicial interpretations, as set out in its 2007 regulations on judicial interpretation work , analogous to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its legislative plans. Judicial interpretations, for those new to this blog, are binding on the SPC itself and the lower courts, and fill in some of the interstices of Chinese law (further explained here).

On 10 July, the SPC’s General Office issued the document above. It sets out a list of 48 judicial interpretation projects for 2018 (with several for 2019) for which the SPC judicial committee’s had given project initiation/approval (立项) designating one or more SPC divisions/offices with primary drafting responsibility (this process to be detailed in a forthcoming article).  It appears to be the first time this type of document was publicly released (please contact me with corrections).  If so, it is a concrete step in increasing the SPC’s transparency (addressed in part in one of my forthcoming academic articles). The projects, deadlines, and some brief comments (some longer than others) follow below.

(“Project initiation”/”project approval” is a procedure well-known to those of us who have been involved in foreign investment projects in China, where it involves approval from the planning authorities, primarily for infrastructure projects, but is an initial procedure used by regulatory authorities of all types, Party and state. For the SPC, it reflects one of the planned economy aspects of the way it operates.

The document classifies the 48 projects into three categories:

  1. 2018 year-end deadline;
  2. 2019 half-year deadline;
  3. 2019 deadline.

This post will discuss the projects in the second and third categories, the ones with deadlines in 2019.

From these we can see which projects are the highest priority and where the SPC sees gaping regulatory holes need to be filled, reflecting its political-legal priorities. Often specific issues have already been on the agenda of the relevant division of the SPC for some time before they have been officially been approved by the SPC’s judicial committee.

As discussed in my previous blogpost, several of the interpretations listed for 2018 have already been issued. It is unclear which other drafts will be made public for comment, as the 2007 regulations do not require it to do so. Making this list known may put some pressure on the SPC to undertake more public consultation.  Few if any interpretations in the area of criminal or criminal procedure law have been issued for public comment.

First half of 2019 deadline

  1. Standardizing the implementation of the death penalty (规范死刑执行).  Apparently this will focus on more setting out more detailed guidelines concerning how the death penalty is implemented, linked to the Criminal Procedure Law and the SPC’s interpretations of the Criminal Procedure Law.

This article on a legal website sets out the steps in implementation and notes that parading of the persons to be executed is prohibited (although this rule seems to be ignored in too many localities).  A recent scholarly article provides some detail (in Chinese). It is possible that 2008 regulations on suspension of the death penalty will be updated. Responsibility of the #1 Criminal Division.  Given the sensitivity of issues related to the death penalty, it is significant that the SPC leadership decided to make this list public, given that this interpretation is on the list.

2. Judicial interpretation on harboring and assisting a criminal.  These provisions occur in various parts of the Criminal Law and are also mentioned in the organized crime opinion discussed in this earlier blogpost.  Drafting responsibility of the #4 Criminal Division.

3.  Interpretation relating to the protection of heroes and martyrs.  With the incorporation of the protection of heroes and martyrs in the Civil Code and the passage of the Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law earlier this year, drafting of a related judicial interpretation was expected.  Responsibility of the #1 Civil Division.

4.Interpretation on technical investigators in litigation.  Responsibility of the #3 Civil Division) (IP Division).  I look forward to Mark Cohen’s further comments on this.

5. Interpretation on the recognition and enforcement of foreign court judgments.  This blog flagged this development last year.  Judge Shen Hongyu of the # 4 Civil Division, who wrote this article on issues related to the recognition and enforcement of foreign court judgments, is likely involved in the drafting.  Drafting responsibility of the #4 Civil Division.

6. Disputes over forestry rights, apparently an area with many disputes.  The Environmental and Natural Resources Division is responsible for drafting.

7.Regulations on responsible persons of administrative authorities responding to law suits, relating to new requirements in the amended Administrative Litigation Law. and the 2018 judicial interpretation of the Administrative Litigation Law. The Administrative Division is in charge of drafting.

8.Regulations on the consolidated review of normative documents in administrative cases.  The Administrative Division is in charge of drafting this.

9. Regulations on the consolidated hearing of administrative and civil disputes, apparently related to item #22 in the previous blogpost. Responsibility of the Administrative Division.

10.  Application of the criminal law to cases involving the organization of cheating on state examinations (linked to Amendment #9 to the Criminal Law). The Research Office is responsible for drafting.

11. Application of the criminal law to crimes involving network use and aiding persons in such crimes (cyber crimes).  This article discusses some of the issues. The Research Office is responsible for drafting this.

End 2019 deadline

  1. Jointly with the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Interpretation on Certain Issues Related to the Application of Law in Criminal Cases of Dereliction of Duty (II), likely updating interpretation (I) in light of the anti-corruption campaign and the establishment of the National Supervision Commission.
  2. Interpretation on limiting commutation during the period of the suspension of death sentences.  See related research in English and Chinese. The #5 Criminal Division is responsible for this.
  3. Interpretation on the trial of labor disputes (V), likely dealing with some of the most pressing labor law issues facing the courts that are not covered by the preceding four interpretations or relevant legislation.   The #1 Civil Division is in charge of drafting.
  4. Regulations on maritime labor service contracts, likely connected with China’s accession to the 2006 Maritime Labor Convention and a large number of disputes in the maritime courts involving maritime labor service contracts.  The #4 Civil Division is in charge of drafting.
  5. Regulations on the hearing of administrative cases, likely filling in the procedural gaps in the Administrative Litigation Law and its judicial interpretation.  The Administrative Division is responsible for drafting this.
  6.  Personal information rights disputes judicial interpretation, linked to the Civil Code being drafted.  Implications for individuals and entities, domestic and foreign. Responsibility of the Research Office.
  7.  Amending (i.e. updating) the 2001 Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Certain Issues Concerning Application of Urging and Supervision Procedure, relating to the enforcement of payment orders by creditors.  Responsibility of the Research Office.

 

 

 

 

What’s on the Supreme People’s Court’s judicial interpretation agenda (I)?

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SPC General office document issuing the 2018 judicial interpretation plan

The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has a yearly plan for drafting judicial interpretations, as set out in its 2007 regulations on judicial interpretation work  (I have not been able to locate a free translation, unfortunately), analogous to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its legislative plans.  Judicial interpretations, for those new to this blog, are binding on the SPC itself and the lower courts, and fill in some of the interstices of Chinese law (further explained here).  On 10 July, the SPC’s General Office issued the document above. It sets out a list of 48 judicial interpretation projects for 2018 (with several for 2019).  The document details the projects for which the SPC judicial committee had given project initiation/approval (立项), designating one or more SPC divisions/offices with primary drafting responsibility (this process to be detailed in a forthcoming article).  It appears to be the first time this type of document was publicly released (please contact me with corrections).  If so, it is a concrete step in increasing the SPC’s transparency (addressed in part in one of my forthcoming academic articles). The projects, deadlines, and some brief comments (some longer than others) follow below.

(“Project initiation”/”project approval” is a procedure well-known to those of us who have been involved in foreign investment projects in China, where it involves approval from the planning authorities, primarily for infrastructure projects, but is an initial procedure used by regulatory authorities of all types, Party and state. For the SPC, it reflects one of the “planned economy” aspects of the way it operates.

The document classifies the 48 projects into three categories:

  1. 2018 year-end deadline;
  2. 2019 half-year deadline;
  3. 2019 deadline.

From these we can see which projects are the highest priority and where the SPC sees gaping regulatory holes that need to be filled, reflecting its political-legal priorities. Often specific issues have already been on the agenda of the relevant division of the SPC for some time before they have been officially been approved by the SPC’s judicial committee.

Several of the listed interpretations have already been issued.  The SPC has solicited public opinion at least one of these draft interpretations, and it is unclear which other drafts will be made public for comment, as the 2007 regulations do not require it to do so. Making this list known may put some pressure on the SPC to undertake more public consultation.

This post will discuss the projects in the first category only, with a follow-up post discussing the projects in the second and third categories.

30 projects with a 2018 year-end deadline

  1. Regulations on the jurisdiction of the Shanghai Financial Court.  The NPC Standing Committee decision required the SPC to do so and included some broad brush principles on the new court’s jurisdiction.  As the SPC has announced that the court will be inaugurated at the end of August,  this is likely to be the highest priority project.  The Case Filing Division is in charge.
  2. Regulations on pre-filing property protection provisional measures (关于办理诉前财产保全案件适用法律若干问题的解释 ), a type of pre-filing injunction.  These regulations are for non-intellectual property (IP) cases, as item 18 below addresses provisional measures in IP cases (in which a great deal of interest exists in the intellectual property rights community, as these order can affect a company’s business). The Case Filing Division is in charge.  These regulations could benefit from some market input.
  3. Interpretation with the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on the Handling of Cases of Corruption and Bribery (II), likely updating the 2016 interpretation to reflect the establishment and operation of the National Supervisory Commission and addressing issues that have arisen in practice.  Issues to be covered likely include ones discussed in issued #106 of Reference to Criminal Trial (the journal of the SPC’s five criminal divisions, mentioned here) .  The #3 Criminal Division is in charge of drafting, but it is likely that the supervision commission will be/is one of the institutions providing input.  As I have mentioned earlier, the SPC generally does not solicit public opinion when drafting criminal law judicial interpretations.
  4. Judicial interpretation on the handling of criminal cases of securities and futures market manipulation.  This is linked to the government’s crackdown on abuses in the financial sector (see this report on the increase in regulatory actions) and is linked to last summer’s Financial Work Conference. The #3 Criminal Division is responsible.  It is likely the China Securities Regulatory Commission will provide input during the drafting process.
  5. Judicial interpretation on the handling of cases involving the use of non-public information for trading (Article 180 of the Criminal Law). Guiding case #61 involved  this crime.  It is likely that the principle from the guiding case will be incorporated into this judicial interpretation, as frequently occurs.  Again linked to the crackdown on the financial sector and again, it is a task for the #3 Criminal Division.
  6. Judicial interpretation on the handling of underground banking (地下钱庄) cases.  Large amounts of money are being whisked out of China unofficially.  Linked again to the crackdown on the financial sector as well efforts to slow the outflow of funds from China, and likely the People’s Bank of Chin.  Again, a task for the #3 Criminal Division.
  7. Interpretation on challenges to enforcement procedures in civil cases, related to the campaign to basically resolve enforcement difficulties within two to three years.  Drafting this is a task for the #1 Civil Division.
  8. Interpretation on evidence in civil procedure.  Important for lawyers and litigants, domestic and foreign.  Drafting this is a task for the #1 Civil Division.
  9. Interpretation on civil cases involving food safety. Food safety is an area in which public interest cases are contemplated.  These cases have been politically sensitive.  Drafting this is a task for the #1 Civil Division.
  10. Interpretation on construction contracts (II). The initial interpretation dates back to 2004. These type of disputes generally involve a chain of interlocking contracts and often regulatory and labor issues. Some of the larger cases have been heard by the SPC. Drafting this is a task for the #1 Civil Division.
  11. Interpretation on the designation of bankruptcy administrators.  Issues surrounding bankruptcy administrators have been ongoing in the bankruptcy courts, as has been discussed in earlier blogposts. Drafting this is a task for the #2 Civil Division.
  12. Regulations on the consolidating the bankruptcy of company affiliates, again an area where regulation is insufficient, posing issues for bankruptcy judges (as has been discussed in earlier blogposts). Drafting this is a task for the #2 Civil Division.
  13. Regulations on the civil and commercial cases relating to bank cards.  The drafting of this interpretation has been underway for several years, with a draft issued for public comment in June.  There have been a large number of disputes in the courts involving bank cards.  Drafting this is a task for the #2 Civil Division.
  14. Interpretation on legal provisions relating to financial asset management companies acquiring, managing, and disposing of non-performing assets.  The legal infrastructure related to non-performing assets is inadequate, as has been pointed out by all participants, including judges. The Shenzhen Intermediate Court has run several symposia bringing together leading experts from the market.  Drafting this is a task for the #2 Civil Division.
  15. Interpretation on the trial of internet finance cases (civil aspects), as existing judicial interpretations inadequately address the issues facing the lower courts. Drafting this is a task for the #2 Civil Division.
  16. Judicial interpretation on the statute of limitations in the General Provisions of the Civil Code (just issued), which was the responsibility of the #1 and #2 Civil Divisions as well as the Research Office. The General Provisions changed the length of the statute of limitations.
  17. Judicial interpretation on administrative cases involving patent authorization and confirmation. It appears to be the counterpart in the patent area of a 2017 judicial interpretation relating to trademarks.  I look forward to “brother blogger” Mark Cohen’s further comments on this. Drafting this is a task for the #3 Civil Division.
  18. As mentioned above, pre-filing injunctions in intellectual property cases (知识产权纠纷诉前行为保全案件适用法律若干问题的解释 ), a type of pre-filing injunction.  There is great deal of interest in the intellectual property rights community concerning these injunctions, as these orders can affect a company’s business. I look forward to Mark Cohen’s further comments on this. Drafting this is a task for the #3 Civil Division.
  19. Regulations on issues relating to the International Commercial Court.  Those were the responsibility of the #4 Civil Division and the interpretation was issued at the end of June.  See the previous blogpost for further comments.
  20.  Regulations on the scope of environmental and natural resources cases, with drafting responsibility placed on the Environmental and Natural Resources Division. These relate to current government efforts to improve the environment.  I would anticipate that these would include provisions on cross-regional centralized jurisdiction, so that pressure from local government will be reduced. Several provinces have already introduced such guidelines.
  21. Interpretation on compensation for harm to the environment, also with drafting responsibility placed on the Environmental and Natural Resources Division.  This is related to an end 2017 Central Committee/State Council General Office document on reforming compensation for harm to the environment. Again, Drafting responsibility with the Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
  22. Regulations on the trial of administrative agreements.  There is a tension between the administrative and civil/commercial specialists, as reflected in the area of Public Private Partnerships  (PPPs)(see this earlier blogpost).  This has practical implications for both the domestic and foreign business community, as the government is seeking to expand the use of PPPs and avoid local government abuse of them.  Drafting responsibility with the Administrative Division and the Ministry of Finance is likely to be providing input.
  23. Regulations on administrative compensation cases, drafting responsibility with the Administrative Division.
  24. Interpretation related to agency issues in retrial (再审) cases.  With the many governance problems of Chinese companies, these issues frequently arise.  Drafting responsibility with the Judicial Supervision Division.
  25. Interpretation on the enforcement of notarized debt instruments.  Lenders often use this provision to seek more efficient enforcement.  This is related to the campaign to improve enforcement as well as government policy relating to the financial sector.  This research report by one of Beijing’s intermediate court shows that asset management companies are often the creditors and the large amounts of money are involved. Drafting responsibility with the Enforcement Bureau.
  26. Interpretation relating to the enforcement of cases involving company shareholding.  Given the complexities of shareholding in China, including the frequent use of nominee arrangements, these are difficult issues for judges to deal with.  See a recent presentation by one of the circuit court judges on this issue.  Drafting responsibility with the Enforcement Bureau.
  27.  Regulations on reference pricing when disposing of property.  This too is related to the enforcement campaign as well as efforts to clean up the enforcement divisions of the local courts by requiring more transparent procedures.
  28. Interpretation on the Handling of Cases of Crimes Disturbing the Administration of Credit Cards (II), updating the SPC’s 2009 interpretation, found here. Responsibility of the Research Office, which can coordinate with criminal divisions involved as well as interested authorities such as the China Banking Regulatory Commission.
  29. Interpretation on cases involving both civil and criminal issues.  This is a longstanding issue, and with the crackdown on the private lending sector, this has come to the fore.  Among the many issues include: if the defendant is criminally prosecuted first and assets are confiscated, how can affected borrowers or other parties  be compensated.  Drafting responsibility with the research office, likely involving several civil and criminal divisions.
  30. Regulations on the implementation of the People’s Assessors Law. As the law and the follow up SPC notice are too general for courts to implement, more detailed rules are needed.  The Political Department (it handles personnel related issues) and Research Office are involved in drafting.

See the next blogpost for a discussion of interpretation in the second and third categories.

 

 

 

Supreme People’s Court reports on its bankruptcy accomplishments

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The warm sun and shopping mall Christmas decorations were not what drew Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang and a large group of senior court and other government leaders to Shenzhen on Christmas Day–it was a rare national bankruptcy trial work conference. It sends signals about the importance of bankruptcy post 19th Party Congress.

This appears to have been one of the last official activities of Grand Justice Du Wanhua, who has taken the lead in promoting bankruptcy work in the courts (see earlier blogposts) and is a classmate of President Zhou Qiang. Du, who turns 64 in January, is retiring.  Takeaways from the conference include:

  • some statistics;
  • the latest political/professional policy on bankruptcy;
  • some informed comments on where the challenges are (with some of my further comments in italics).

Statistics

The Chinese courts accepted 8984 bankruptcy & compulsory liquidation cases in 2017 (through 21 December), heard by 97 bankruptcy divisions (up from 6 in 2016, a consequence of a 2016 SPC notice, described here).  The courts concluded 4404 bankruptcy cases through November.

Reforms aimed at speeding up cases moving from enforcement to bankruptcy proceedings are showing some initial success, with the Guangdong courts handling over 43,000 in the second half of 2017, of which 10,000 were handled by the Shenzhen courts.

Latest bankruptcy policy statements

President Zhou Qiang conveyed the macro policy on bankruptcy.

  • adhere to problem orientation (必须坚持问题导向) (one of the current political slogans);
  • if at all possible, merge or reorganize, less bankruptcy liquidation 尽可能多兼并重组,少破产清算 (the current policy);
  • Explore establishing a simplified procedure and a pre-reorganization system (简易破产程序、预重整制度) (this idea, a borrowing of pre-packaged administration from US/English law has been discussed by academics and others for some years, but this prominence seems to be new.  Pre-packaged administration is a bankruptcy/insolvency procedure under in which a company arranges to sell all or some of its assets to a buyer before appointing an administrator to facilitate the sale. It involves a company’s institutional creditors agreeing to it, so it is understandable that would be an attractive idea in China);
  • intermediate courts in larger cities and economically developed areas should establish bankruptcy divisions or collegial panels (this follows from an announcement in 2016, discussed here);
  • use informatization to improve the hearing of bankruptcy cases (信息化建设提高破产审判质效).

Du Wanhua had more specific signals to the lower courts.

  • improve professionalism;
  • improve the bankruptcy administrator system, promote establishing a bankruptcy administrator society, bring in a competitive system;
  • improve the enforcement to bankruptcy system,  accelerate cases that can’t be enforced transferred to bankruptcy proceedings;
  • use reorganization as much as possible through the market and legal methods to save companies in trouble;
  • establish a normalized government/courts unified coordinated system (要建立常态化的“府院破产统一协调机制”), protect the rights of each party on an equal basis;
  • use informatization.
  • handle carefully bankruptcy cases involving debts that are mutual/joint guarantees, guide financial creditors to convert the debt into equity or other methods that simplify the debtor relationship and enable the company to survive;
  • handle carefully the consolidated bankruptcy of affiliated companies, balance the conflicts between the rights and interests of each party.
  • improve cross-border bankruptcy trial work.

 On problems facing bankruptcy courts

Professor Li Shuguang of the China University of Political Science & Law, one of the preeminent Chinese bankruptcy law scholars, who attended the conference, had informed comments, citing the following challenges for the bankruptcy courts:

  1. The relationship between the courts and government when hearing bankruptcy cases needs to be resolved. (Despite the official talk of a united approach by courts & government, discussed above, it remains a challenge. For some local color, see this excerpt from an article by a team of Zhejiang bankruptcy judges on real estate developer bankruptcy:

If a real estate developer is having a crisis, government will involve itself first, and only if administrative measures don’t work, will they think of judicial measures. This creates problems in transitioning from administrative to judicial procedures. For example, how should a court treat the legal authority of the creditor settlement arrangement of the special work team formed by government to deal the crisis? Once the company goes into bankruptcy procedures, government hasn’t withdrawn completely, and on the one hand, all sorts of bankruptcy matters require coordination and cooperation by many government departments, and on the other hand government will give instructions and suggestions about bankruptcy work, considering the needs of the local economy, stability, and other interests.

3.  Many local courts are afraid to accept bankruptcy cases and even establish unreasonable barriers to for local protection–new systems need to be put in place.

4.  On bankruptcy administrators, there need to be more detailed rules on selection, oversight, administration, operation. [I can testify to this, based on the questions raised on one of my Wechat chat groups about bankruptcy administrators and the many articles published on bankruptcy law-related Wechat public accounts.] 

5. Professor Li asks how Chinese bankruptcy law can be reformed to effectively rescue companies, to enable courts to identify salvageable companies, properly protect the rights of creditors and shareholders.  More detailed rules are needed on preferences in bankruptcy.  These are ongoing issues for Chinese bankruptcy courts, as the current system protects local government interests.

6.  There exist a group of specific issues related to bankruptcy liquidation, such as how to expand the pool of assets available to the creditors, balance the interests of various creditors, deal with the relationship between creditor committees (under the bankruptcy law) and financial institution creditors committee (these committees were put in place from 2016, see more details here).  This also relates to issues of transparency and procedure, particularly what information will be available to members of the creditor committee, and at what point. An important area where legal infrastructure is lacking, as discussed in this Wechat article.

Among those issues is how to protect the interests of consumers who have purchased property from a bankrupt real estate developer.  This is an important practical issue for all involved (including local governments) because an increasing number of real estate developers are going into bankruptcy.  A recent Wechat article analyzes a 2015 SPC ruling that requires the bankruptcy administrator to perform the purchase and sale contract where payment has been made in full.  In practice, courts take different approaches to variations on this scenario.

7.  He echoes Du Wanhua on issues related to consolidation of bankruptcy cases involving corporate affiliates and the transfer of cases from enforcement to bankruptcy, raising the problem of the courts performance indicators.

8. Professor Li opens up the issue of “informatization,” so that it becomes a platform collecting and analyzing bankruptcy data, and information sharing mechanism for all involved.  This comment echoes my own experience that the electronic platform is not helpful for a researcher seeking access to bankruptcy documents, as few are accessible, not even those that are otherwise publicly available. Some bankruptcy judges have responded to my discrete inquiries that little information is available because it is possible to set access restrictions on information.)

9.  He raises the increasingly prominent issue of cross-border bankruptcy, in which judges lack legislation and experience to deal with these issues, and suggests that at an appropriate time harmonization of Chinese cross-border bankruptcy standards with international ones.  By this, he is likely referring to the UNCITRAL model law on cross-border insolvency.  These issues are ongoing ones for the professional community in Hong Kong and increasingly in the rest of the world, see this law firm alert. This has been a frequent topic of academic analysis.

Finally, Professor Li states (what is clear from the comments above) that bankruptcy legislation is inadequate–the judicial interpretations the SPC has issued. deal with only a small portion of the outstanding issues and there isn’t time to draft a long judicial interpretation.  As judges are hearing bankruptcy cases, large numbers of technical issues have arisen [I can testify to this, based on the questions raised on one of my Wechat chat groups.]  SPC academic journals and academic studies address specific issues, see these articles. Professor Li suggests that a “conference summary” be issued based on this conference and input from bankruptcy court professionals. (A conference summary is explained in this blogpost.)

Quick comment

Finally, this area of law is a microcosm of issues facing the Chinese courts, whether it is the requirement for the SPC and lower courts  to reflect current Party/government policy in what they do, relationship between the courts and government, issues with judicial professionalism, large number of technical issues but a lack of legislation, related issues that affect the ordinary person, consideration of foreign law models, and the disconnect between international and Chinese practice.

China’s draft court law

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Screenshot of trial in the Haidian district court

A draft of the first comprehensive overhaul of China’s court law since 1979 (the organic/organizational law of the people’s courts) is now open for public comment (until 4 October).  A translation of the draft is available at Chinalawtranslate.com (many thanks to those who made it possible).  A translation of the current law is here and an explanation of the amendments has also been published.  The draft is significantly longer than the earlier version of the law (66 vs. 40 articles). It retains much of the framework of the old law, incorporates legislative changes as well many of the judicial reforms, particularly since the Third and Fourth Plenums, and leaves some flexibility for future reforms. As with the current law, Communist Party regulations address (and add another layer to) some of the broad issues addressed in the draft law. Some comments:

Drafting process

The drafting process (the explanation has the details) reflects the drafting of much Chinese legislation (further insights about the process from Jamie Horsley here)–several years of soft consultation by the drafters of relevant Party and government authorities, plus one month of public consultations. Among the central Party authorities consulted were: Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, Central Organizational Department (in charge of cadres); Central Staffing Commission (in charge of headcount); Central Political Legal Committee.  On the government side: Supreme People’s Court and Procuratorate; State Council Legislative Affairs Office; Ministry of Finance, National People’s Congress Legal Work Committee. Investigations and consultations were also done at a local level.

General Provisions

Some of the dated language from the 1979 version has been deleted (references to the “system of the dictatorship of the proletariat,” “socialist property,” and the “smooth progress of the socialist revolution.” replaced by “lawful rights and interests of legal persons,” and protection of national security and social order. Although the draft court law deletes language that distinguishes among owners of different types of Chinese companies, Chinese criminal law still does (see this chart setting out sentencing guidelines, for example).

Article 10 of the draft incorporates judicial responsibility systems into the law (a prominent feature of the recent judicial reforms), but a topic regarding which dispassionate analysis is hard to find.

The draft contains clear statements about judicial openness and the right of the masses (i.e. ordinary people, that term is alive and well) to know about the work of the courts (according to law).

Organization of the courts

The draft mentions some of the specialized and special courts that have been established over the last thirty years:

Article 14 incorporates the guiding case system into the draft.

Article 15 of the draft crystallizes the SPC’s circuit courts (tribunals) into law (SPC regulations on the jurisdiction of those courts found here).

Article 24 gives space for establishing cross-administrative region courts (the time has not yet been ripe for establishing them).

Articles 26 and 27 give courts some flexibility on their internal structure (courts in remote areas with few cases need not establish divisions, while large city courts can have multiple specialized ones. (Earlier blogposts have mentioned establishing bankruptcy divisions, for example.)

Trial Organization

This section of the draft law incorporates the current judicial reforms in several ways, including:

  • In Articles 30-31, on the operation of collegial panels and requiring the court president to be the presiding judge when s(he) participates in a collegial panel;
  • Mentioning in Article 32 that the members of the collegial panel are the ones to sign their judgments and dissenting opinions are to be recorded;
  • Article 34 gives space for eliminating the role of people’s assessors to determine issues of law;
  • Article 37 incorporates into law previous SPC regulations on judicial interpretations and guiding cases, specifying that they must be approved by the SPC judicial committee;
  • Article 40 contains provisions imposing liability on members of the adjudication/judicial committee for their comments and their votes. It also incorporates into the law SPC regulations on disclosing the views of the judicial committee in the final judgments, except where the law provides it would be inappropriate;
  • Article 41 also incorporates into the law the specialized committees mentioned in judicial reform documents (briefly discussed in prior blogposts).

Court Personnel

Article 42 requires court presidents to have legal knowledge and experience.  It has long been an issue that court presidents have been appointed more for their political than legal expertise.

It appears that the reform of having judges below the provincial level appointed by the provincial level is not yet in place,

This section of the draft court law incorporates the personnel reforms set out in the judicial reform documents in several ways: quota judge system; selecting higher court judges from the lower courts; the roles of judicial assistants and clerks (changed from the old model); other support personnel in the courts; a new career track for judges, including judicial selection committees; preference to hiring judges with legal qualifications;

Safeguards for the courts’ exercise of authority

Article 56 gives courts the right to refuse to engage in activities that violate their legally prescribed duties (with this end the phenomenon of judges sweeping streets?);

Article 57 relates to reforms relating to enforcement of judgments (and the social credit system);

Article 59 relates to threats to judges’ physical safety and personal dignity, that occur several times a year in China, and have been the subject of SPC regulations;

Scope for further reforms for judicial personnel management (including salary reform!) are included in this section.

Article 60 reiterates the principle that judges may only be transferred, demoted, dismissed according to procedures specified by law (Party procedures  to which most judges are subject,are governed by Party rules.)

Article 62 relates to judicial (and judicial personnel training)–some earlier blogposts have shed light on this topic.

Article 64 incorporates into the draft law President Zhou Qiang’s focus on the informatization (including use of the internet and big data) of the Chinese courts.

Etc.

My apologies to readers for the long gap between posts, but several long haul trips from Hong Kong plus teaching have left me no time to post.

Forthcoming individual bankruptcy legislation revealed in letter to President Zhou Qiang’s mailbox

Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 12.48.54 PMMost readers of this blog are unlikely to know that the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) publishes on its website responses to selected letters to President Zhou Qiang that make suggestions and give opinions. In a July 11 response, the SPC revealed that individual bankruptcy legislation is on its agenda. As I suggest below, actual legislation is likely to come later.

The letter said:

Dear Mr. Pan Dingxin:

We received your proposal, and after consideration, we respond as follows:

establishing and implementing an individual bankruptcy system is beneficial for those individuals or households who have fallen into serious financial distress to exempt some of their debts and enable them again through their hard work to achieve normal business and living conditions. Because of this, it has an important function to protect individuals and households that have fallen into financial difficulties. However an individual bankruptcy system relates to the establishment and improvement of an individual credit system and commercialization of commercial banks or their further marketization and other factors.  At the same time, the implementation of an individual bankruptcy system requires the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee to legislate. We believe that with development and improvement of the socialist market economic, the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee will promulgate an individual bankruptcy law on the basis of the experience with the “PRC Enterprise Bankruptcy Law.” The Supreme People’s Court will definitely actively support the work of the relevant departments of the state, and promote the implementation of an individual bankruptcy system.

Thank you for your support of the work of the Supreme People’s Court!

Supreme People’s Court

June 15, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 9.37.15 PM Few are aware that Shenzhen has been working on draft individual bankruptcy legislation for several years now, looking to Hong Kong’s experience and legislation, described in a recent report as a “complete” individual bankruptcy system (“完善的个人破产制度”).  The process has been going on for so long that the team (designated by the local people’s congress and lawyers association) and headed by a Shenzhen law firm partner published a book one year ago with its proposed draft and explanations.

Although Professor Tian Feilong of Beihang University’s Law School has been recently widely quoted for his statement about Hong Kong’s legal system undergoing “nationalisation,”  this is an example, known to those closer to the the world of practice, that Hong Kong’s legal system is also seen as a source of legal concepts and systems that can possibly be borrowed.  The drafting team looked at Hong Kong (among other jurisdictions) and others in China have proposed the same as well.

Shenzhen’s municipal intermediate court has completed an (award-winning) study on judicial aspects of individual bankruptcy shared with the relevant judges at the SPC.

If recent practice is any guide, individual bankruptcy legislation will be piloted in Shenzhen and other regions before  nationwide legislation is proposed, and it will be possible to observe the possible interaction between those rules and the government’s social credit system. So national individual bankruptcy legislation appears to be some years off.

As to why the SPC has a letter to the court president function, the answer is on the SPC website: it is to further develop the mass education and practice campaign (mentioned in this blogpost four years ago) and listen to the opinions and suggestions of all parts of society (the masses).  Listening to the opinion and suggestions of society are also required of him as a senior Party leader, by recently updated regulations. The regulations are the latest expression of long-standing Party principles.

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Welcome to the “Court President’s Mailbox”

 

 

Welaw Monitor (微律观察) #2

I am traveling at the moment, so my time to review articles published on Wechat is limited.  But below are some links of interest.

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Huazhen (Flower Town) emotional counseling

Oldies but goodies

Several prominent media sources, the South China Morning Post among them, are running articles on China’s clean-up of the financial sector, this one pointing to the government’s focus on privately owned insurance companies.

But those reading Wechat would have known that several years ago, China’s legal analysts had been writing  articles such as “China’s private entrepreneurs are all on their way to jail  or China’s businesspeople are either in jail or on their way to jail. 

China’s Good Samaritan case Peng Yu back in the news-  a backgrounder plus-retired SPC judge Cai Xiaoxue criticizes as does former judge & Peking U Professor Fu Yulin.

Detention Center Law draft

The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has recently issued its draft Detention Center Law for public comments (link to Chinalawtranslate.com’s translation.  The draft has caused a great deal of comment within China and those concerned about the treatment of fellow human beings in criminal detention in China should read these articles:

The MPS is drafting the Detention Center Law, but the entire legal world is opposed

10 years of calls for separating detention from criminal investigation

Professor Chen Ruihua, defects of the detention system and how it should be reformed

Professor Chen Ruihua–the detention centers should be transferred to the justice authorities

Commercial law

China’s distraught buy online counseling packages, but does China’s consumer protection legislation protect them if there are no standards for counseling?

Party discipline

A Cangzhou court president is under investigation. Is it connected to the strip search of a woman lawyer?

In CCDI hearing procedures, will evidence provided by the accused be considered?  The answer is, the scope is limited

Criminal law

Three SPC judges (likely to have been on the drafting team) unpack the asset recovery regulations (discussed in this January blogpost). It shows they looked to foreign legislation when doing so;

 20 years of bribery prosecutions, with 9 acquittals

SPC on anti-drug day, with white paper and 10 typical cases

Is it rape if the sexual contact comes after the coercion?

Supervision Commission

The first father’s day after being transferred to the Supervision Commission

Labor law

Does “remote working” in China mean the place of employment has changed?

Don’t make these 10 mistakes when terminating employees

Family law issues & property

Leta Hong Fincher’s book Leftover Women discusses the Marriage Law interpretation & home purchases.  This Wechat post sets out a chart with various scenarios related to marriage & home purchase--a very handy reference.

Bankruptcy

10 typical bankruptcy cases from Suqian, Jiangsu Province, including some real estate companies

Chongqing courts borrow concepts of personal bankruptcy from abroad when dealing with private (shadow) borrowing cases

The many inadequacies in China’s non-performing asset legislation

Judiciary

A review of the Party’s work at the SPC since the 18th Party Congress

 

 

 

 

Welaw Monitor (微律观察) #1

I am tweaking the type of content on the blog, cutting down on the long analytical blogposts.   I will provide links to reports and analysis on court and other legal matters on Wechat. I am concentrating on writing a book and some other related writing and editing projects.

It remains my hope that some followers with the financial wherewithal to do so will consider supporting (in some fashion) the blogs that are enabling the English speaking and reading public to perceive (through translation or bite-sized analysis) the “elephant” that is the Chinese legal system, among them Chinalawtranslate.com and this blog.

Commercial law

14 situations where the corporate veil can be pierced

Criminal law

Public security v. SPC & SPP on what is prostitution–does that include other types of sexual services?

SPC vice president Li Shaoping on drug crimes–relevant sections of Criminal Law should be amended, better evidentiary rules needed for drug crimes, & death penalty standards need to be improved

Hebei lawyer’s collateral appeal statement, alleges torture during residential surveillance, procedural errors (part of China’s innocence project

China’s financial crime trading rules are unclear

Defendant changed his story on appeal but the appeal court ruled he was the killer

25 criminal law case summaries from People’s Justice magazine 

Criminal procedure law

public security does not want the procuratorate supervisors in police stations

A corrupt official’s polygraph problems

Supervision Commission

Its power should be caged

Beijing supervision authorities take someone into custody, will shuanggui be abolished?

Party discipline

On confession writing

10 No nos for Party members using Wechat

Administrative litigation law

SPC issues 10 typical administrative cases, including one involving the Children’s Investment Fund

Those disputing compensation for expropriation of rural land must first apply for a ruling–land is now part of the Harbin Economic and Technical Zone (unpacking of  case #46 of #2 Circuit Court’s case summaries)

Labor law

Important study by the Guangzhou Intermediate Court on labor disputes 2014-16, with many insights & a section devoted to sex discrimination issues

Don’t make these 10 mistakes when terminating employees

Family law

Status report on family court reforms (& difficult issues for judges)

 Why it’s so hard to deal with school bullying in China

How juvenile justice should be improved (the semi-official view)

Judiciary

300 cases in 100 days–a team of young judges & expedited criminal cases

Environmental Law

Procuratorate has brought 79 public interest law suits in Yunnan (press report)

Bankruptcy

Why bankruptcy is so difficult and what needs to improve

Lawyers

 legal qualification system needs changing, the profession needs those with non-law undergraduate training

 

 

 

Supreme People’s Court releases 2016 bankruptcy data

7427ea09324917a26ee719The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued 2016 data on bankruptcy cases on 24 February: 5665 cases were accepted by the Chinese courts while 3602 were closed.  This is up substantially from 2015, when 3568 cases were accepted.  This is an increase of 53.8% over 2015.   Of these, 1041 were bankruptcy reorganization cases, up 85.2% over 2015. As this blog has previously reported,  long delays in filing bankruptcy cases have meant that practically all bankruptcy cases have been liquidation rather than reorganization cases. This is contrast to the downward trend in bankruptcy cases 2005-2014, shown in the graph published on this earlier blogpost. These numbers represent only a tiny proportion of what the Chinese government terms “zombie enterprises,” but it does show that the SPC has been doing its part to serve the nation’s major economic strategies.

What has the SPC done to support this important government strategy highlighted in the 5th Plenum?  In reverse chronological order, a quick list of some of the highlights:

  1. In February, 2017, the SPC issued guidance  to the lower courts on transferring cases that are in debt enforcement proceedings into bankruptcy, so that bankruptcy reorganization has a chance of working. Justice Du had flagged the importance of this a year ago. The Zhejiang Higher People’s Court piloted measures because the courts of that province are piloting bankruptcy reforms. As reported in a December, 2016 blogpost, close to half (40-50%) of the unsatisfied enforcement cases are ones that are wholly unsatisfied, with a goodly portion involving corporate judgment debtors. Judge Du pointed out that unsatisfied judgments because of local protectionism have led to conflicts between creditors and “fierce” conflicts between courts. He called for courts not to engage in “buck passing” on enforcement cases that are transferred to another court for bankruptcy procedures.
  2. In December, 2016, the SPC and lower court judges (as well as Chinese bankruptcy practitioners and scholars) were involved in dialogue with American bankruptcy judges and practitioners on bankruptcy issues, under the framework of US Department of Commerce initiative
  3. On 1 August 216, launched a bankruptcy electronic information platform  (it harmonizes with President Zhou Qiang’s promotion of information technology in the Chinese courts). According to the SPC’s press release, close to 9000 cases are in the database. The platform has assembled relevant documents on some high profile cases, such as Dongbei Special Steel. This platform has received a good market response with 9,760,000 page views as of early February, 2017 (likely to be primarily bankruptcy professionals).
  4. In June, 2016, as this blog has reported earlier, the SPC has required lower courts to establish specialized bankruptcy divisions (4 on the provincial level, 47 intermediate courts, and 22 basic level courts).  One of the aims of the SPC is to create a corps of more competent judges to handle bankruptcy cases. Given the link between the bankruptcy of large state owned enterprises and social stability highlighted by judges writing on this topic previously, serving as a bankruptcy judge in China requires a set of skills unneeded in other jurisdictions.
  5. As more and more companies go into bankruptcy, (as highlighted in this blogpost), more labor litigation can be expected. Senior SPC judges have highlighted that people are increasingly aware of their rights. Those with the means are going to court to try to protect them. The SPC is likely to work on technical issues highlighted in the report such as: how to characterize labor claims in bankruptcy, and whether they should be treated as labor disputes or claims against the bankruptcy estate; whether labor disputes needed to be submitted first to labor arbitration; how the courts can better obtain files from labor arbitration authorities and can ensure labor disputes are addressed and not avoided; and how to ensure that bankrupt enterprises pay social insurance payments for their employees.
  6. Expect to see the SPC focus on bankruptcies (or reorganization) in important areas of the Chinese economy, such as real estate.  This analysis published by a member of the Shanghai Bar Association highlighted some of the complex interests relating to the bankruptcy reorganization of real estate companies : is it practicable;  the workers; the lender, who are often private (shadow) lenders; the individual purchasers. These cases generally involve a string of companies.

Liaoning high court looks into labor issues in bankruptcy

While Zhou Qiang’s statements on  judicial independence, mistaken “Western” thinking, and separation of powers continue to be discussed inside and outside of China, others in the Chinese legal community face more prosaic and difficult issues of how to protect workers when companies go into bankruptcy.  This is a particular issue in the northeastern provinces, particularly in Liaoning.

According to statistics released in the past month (January, 2017), there were 345 other bankruptcy cases accepted by the Liaoning courts, aside from the bankruptcy of Dongbei Special Steel, which has received the lions share of attention outside of China. While strikes are regularly reported in the English language media , what is not known that in many of these bankruptcy cases, employees have gone to court.

A research report by the Liaoning Higher People’s Court (Liaoning High Court) recently released in the People’s Court Daily (the Supreme People’s Court’s )SPC) newspaper, giving the report the SPC’s semi-official imprimatur) drilled down on 79 labor cases related to enterprise bankruptcy that arose in 2015-16. The Liaoning High Court did not specify the overall number of bankruptcy-related labor cases the provincial courts accepted.  A quick search reveals several hundred, the exact number depending on how the search is framed.

The research report provides a glimpse into the concerns of the judiciary, involvement of counsel in these disputes (a more general report on representing workers was recently published, available here), inadequacies of related legislation, and chaotic record keeping of these companies.

Research report reveals several major issues

The report identified the top issue to be the re-employment of workers, citing two large scale bankruptcies, the Hongmei Group (MSG manufacturer) and Badaohao Coal Mine. (A 2014 social media posting criticized the Hongmei Group’s violation of labor law).

A second issue was that bankruptcy caused group labor litigation, particularly by senior staff, who were more highly paid, and older, but faced difficulties being reemployed (and likely had the funds to hire a lawyer).  The report noted that this group had overly high expectations from litigation and if their individual claims were not supported by the court, they would resort to group litigation or petitioning.The research report mentioned, with a positive spin, that labor lawyers were involved  to resolve disputes.

The litigants raised more varied claims rather than simply wages, including: damages; determination of a labor relationship; social insurance; work-related injury; wages and status; etc., as shown by the chart below.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-8-50-40-amUnlike ordinary labor cases, most cases were decided by court judgment, not mediated. In 66% of the cases, the plaintiff’s claim was upheld in whole or part, with a dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims in 28% of cases.

The report also illustrates the importance of social stability related procedures.  Although a Chinese law firm partner criticized as quite vague and incompatible with the existing labor law system  the requirement in a 2016 State Council policy document that a worker resettlement plan (for certain industries)  be approved by the workers’ congress or all workers, this is not new and is taken seriously by local judges.  The requirement is contained in Liaoning provincial level legislation (and other legislation) and compliance was noted by the research team. (The team noted that after the resettlement plan was approved (for Hong Mei Group and Badaohao Coal) was approved by the workers congress, it was reported to the local labor and union authorities authorities.

Compliance with labor law related formalities, by both  companies and employees created problems for judges hearing these claims, such as in work-related injury cases, where companies failed to pay legally required wages to employees and employees failed to submit needed documentation.  Some of the companies continued to pay employees under old “planned-economy” systems rather than comply with current labor law, requiring employees to work overtime without overtime pay, a particular issue in the Badahao Coal Mine bankruptcy.

Inadequacies of legislation highlighted by the team included: how to characterize labor claims in bankruptcy, and whether they should be treated as labor disputes or claims against the bankruptcy estate; whether labor disputes needed to be submitted first to labor arbitration; how the courts can better obtain files from labor arbitration authorities and can ensure labor disputes are addressed and not avoided; and how to ensure that bankrupt enterprises pay social insurance payments for their employees.

Comments

The research team (at least on the version publicly available) did not further explore the reasons for the failure of these bankrupt companies (likely many SOEs) to comply with basic labor law requirements, why local labor arbitration authorities avoided hearing cases, or why the Liaoning High Court needed to issue the recommendation that  “labor administrative departments should also strengthen the daily management and supervision of the enterprises before their bankruptcy.”

This report contains a disturbing signal about the disposal of assets of bankrupt companies.  This is significant because the government is promoting the use of bankruptcy. The report recommended that the liquidation group effectively dispose of tangible and intangible assets of the bankrupt companies such as coal mines and well-known trademarks, and implement better supervision and management, to ensure that the realization of bankruptcy assets to maximize the protection of the employees.

Liaoning bankruptcies may be an illustration of what an bankruptcy lawyer recently commented in Caixin:  “falsifying financial reports and asset transfers has often occurred in SOE bankruptcy cases to escape obligations. Meanwhile, local governments’ intervention has also often disrupted the fairness of such cases.”

It appears that employees of the bankrupt companies are the ones who suffer the most when these cases are not handled fairly.As the research team recognized, employees are the weaker party. The team recommended that local government provide a coordination mechanism and funding to secure the workers’ claims against the company, so that the company can withdraw from the market but overall societal interests are balanced.  Whether local Liaoning governments do so remains to be seen.

How Zhejiang courts support its economy

zhejiang

My apologies to blog followers for my absence.  I will address Zhou Qiang’s comments on judicial independence in a later blogpost, for which I want to do some more detailed research than is possible at this time.

This blogpost will look at a less contentious question–what does the profile of civil and commercial disputes in Zhejiang province mean for the Zhejiang/Chinese economy and the role of the courts (in civil/commercial disputes).

Judge Zhang Hengzhu, head of the #2 civil division of the Zhejiang Higher People’s Court (High Court), spoke in early January at a conference organized by Tiantong & Partners, the boutique litigation law firm on civil and commercial disputes in his province.

What is special about Zhejiang?

The Zhejiang economy is dominated by small and medium enterprises (SMEs), many integrated with the global economy.  These companies are private, family-owned companies. Judge Zhang noted that these companies tend to have irregular corporate governance, with vague lines between property ownership by the company founder, the company, and affiliates.

Civil & commercial litigation in Zhejiang

Zhejiang (and Jiangsu) are the two most litigious provinces in China. The Zhejiang courts accepted over a million cases (1,112,900) in the first nine months of 2016, up 11% over 2015, of which over half (572,300) were civil and commercial cases, up 7% year on year.  [Comment–year-end numbers will be even higher.]

A significant proportion of those cases during that period were bad debt-related. About 17% of those cases (136,500) were private (shadow) lending disputes, involving total amounts in disputes of RMB 78.366 billion (almost USD 11.4 billion).  Private/shadow lending in Zhejiang is a supplement or replacement for bank financing. During the same period, about half as many financial disputes were accepted (85,400), up almost 20%, but the total amounts in dispute were RMB 232 billion, or USD 33.79 billion).  [Comment–year-end numbers will be even higher.]

How Zhejiang courts support SME economy

Judge Zhang commented on what the Zhejiang courts have been doing to support the province’s SME-dependent economy.  Those actions, which appear unusual those unused to the Chinese judicial system, include:

  • Taking the lead to generate judicial guidance on private (shadow) lending.  In 2009,  the High Court was the first to issue provincial level guidance. which it updated in 2013.
  • In 2013, it issued a concurrence (in the form of a meeting summary) with the provincial procuratorate and public security department on criminal law issues relating to collective fundraising.
  • The High Court is working with the provincial financial institutions on the disposal of non-performing assets.
  • It was one of the first provincial courts to take steps to generate judicial guidance on bankruptcy law and to take steps to deal with zombie enterprises (after raising it with the provincial Party secretary and government, who issued written instructions (批示)。
  • In late 2016, establishing a joint mechanism with fourteen departments of the provincial government to advance the use of bankruptcy and related issues, such as re-employment of workers, use of land formerly used by bankrupt enterprises, generating bankruptcy-favorable tax policies (document on the mechanism found here).

 

 

 

Updated data on Chinese bankruptcy law

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Senior Shanghai Maritime Court judges participating in video conference 

Senior Judge Du Wanhua, tasked with making Chinese bankruptcy and corporate restructuring law work better (see these earlier blogposts), spoke recently on a video conference held by the Chinese courts, where he released a few points of big data on Chinese bankruptcy law and highlighted (in this version) current and forthcoming court policy on bankruptcy.  The data he released can be expected to be part of the conversation when the 21st US-China [or China-US, depending on your perspective] Legal Exchange takes place in Beijing and Shanghai on 13 and 15 December 2016 on bankruptcy law.

The video conference concerned one of the vexed issues of Chinese bankruptcy law, how to transfer cases from enforcement to bankruptcy proceedings, but Du Wanhua’s talking points as released were more general. Some of his points are highlighted below.

Updated data on bankruptcy cases

The Chinese courts have accepted 3463 bankruptcy cases through October of this year, up almost 30% year on year, of which 2249 have been closed, up almost 60%.  At the same time, the business registration authorities (the State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC) and local counterparts), have cancelled the registration of 396,000 companies.

Transitioning from enforcement to bankruptcy procedures

Judge Du revealed that close to half (40-50%) of the unsatisfied enforcement cases  are ones that are wholly unsatisfied, with a goodly portion involving corporate judgment debtors. (As mentioned in earlier blogposts, there is no procedure to transfer cases from enforcement procedures to bankruptcy). Judge Du mentioned that the SPC had already drafted guidance which have been discussed by the SPC’s Judicial Committee and would be issued soon. He noted that unsatisfied judgments because of local protectionism have led to conflicts between creditors and  “fierce” conflicts between courts. He called for courts not to engage in “buck passing” on enforcement cases that are transferred to another court for bankruptcy procedures.

Establish coordination system for bankruptcy cases

Echoing themes in earlier statements by Judge Du and others in the Chinese courts, he calls for localities to establish a unified coordination mechanism for enterprise bankruptcy work, with government and courts, under Party Committee leadership, to plan state asset protection, safeguarding of financial safety, resettlement and reemployment of workers, and for the bankruptcy of non-state owned enterprises to proceed smoothly.

Will this coordination system improve matters?  The jury is still out.

 

Supreme People’s Court’s new bankruptcy information platform

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 12.12.56 PMOn 1 August, President Zhou Qiang of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) inaugurated the SPC’s new enterprise bankruptcy and reorganization electronic information platform, linked here and accessible through the Supreme People’s Court’s website (www.court.gov.cn).  The English title and slogans could have benefited from a 5-minute consultation with a native speaker, but more importantly, some of the functions still appear to be in Beta mode.  The platform has three parts.

It provides information for the public on:

  • Debtors (债务人信息). :

 This function seems to be in Beta mode because when you click further for more details,Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 9.03.31 AMno further information is available.  This section is intended to provide the most recent annual report, related litigation, and information on assets of the company from the industrial and commercial authorities’ database and enable “one-stop shopping” for distressed assets.

Bankruptcy notices, such as this one with a plan on the distribution of the assets of a Xinjiang tomato processing company;

  • Bankruptcy rulings made by the local courts, such as this one by the Qidong (Jiangsu) court on accepting the bankruptcy case of a Nantong marine engineering company;
  • Laws and regulations (primarily SPC regulations related to bankruptcy);
  • Bankruptcy related news, primarily reports on new regulations issued and bankruptcy-related initiatives or conferences, such as this one in Zhejiang, on the crisis in Zhejiang’s ship-building industry);
  • Typical (model) bankruptcy and liquidation cases (see an explanation of typical/mode cases here), so far just a re-publication of the typical cases that the SPC issued in June.

Second, bankruptcy administrators are required by these regulations to upload information to issue to parties to the bankruptcy.

Third, judges are required to upload their bankruptcy/liquidation rulings to this platform.

For parties, the platform enables them to have current information on the status of their cases and upload documents to submit to the court or bankruptcy administrator.

The SPC issued regulations on the operation of the platform in late July, available here. It seems likely that the SPC considered the bankruptcy platform of other major jurisdictions in the process.  This platform is part of the SPC’s Internet Plus/smart courts policy to provide greater transparency, easier access to information, and “greater informatization,” for some of the reasons described in this short article–particularly having tangible results and promoting the use of information technology.

For anyone seeking to drill down into the details of how bankruptcy and liquidation law is being implemented in China’s political and economic environment, and particularly for lawyers and others doing due diligence and distressed asset investors (domestic or foreign), the platform is unquestionably very useful.

 

 

 

 

Chinese courts recruiting more bankruptcy forces

imgres-1The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) recently issued a notice  (notice concerning the plan for establishing liquidation and bankruptcy trial divisions in intermediate courts)(bankruptcy division notice) (关于在中级人民法院设立清算与破产审判庭的工作方案) aimed at establishing liquidation and bankruptcy trial divisions in China’s intermediate courts and increasing the number of judges and support staff focusing on liquidation (winding up companies not in bankruptcy) and bankruptcy-related issues, to implement the central leadership decision to use bankruptcy law to reduce the number of zombie enterprises.

SPC Judge Du Wanhua had foreshadowed this development in many previous statements. The SPC required the concurrence of the Central Staffing Commission, a Party-State organization that regulates staffing in Party and state entities. A summary of the bankruptcy division notice follows below:

  • Establish bankruptcy divisions in intermediate courts, with some courts taking the lead;

In the directly administered cities, at least one intermediate court should establish a bankruptcy division, intermediate courts in provincial capitals and cities of deputy provincial level also. At lower levels, it will depend on economic development, local need, and professional infrastructure, with provincial courts to make arrangements with staffing authorities.

The following locations will take the lead in establishing bankruptcy divisions: Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing; and the provincial capitals (and cities of deputy provincial level) of Jilin, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong, and Sichuan. These arrangements are to be put in place by the end of July, with the other areas to follow by year end. This blog has reported on previous bankruptcy developments in Jiangsu,  Zhejiang, Anhui, Shandong, and Guangdong.

  • Sets out the work of  bankruptcy divisions;

Try compulsory liquidation and bankruptcy cases, guide lower courts trying these types of cases; coordinate with other courts on these issues; manage and train bankruptcy administrators.

  • Describes the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy divisions;

Intermediate courts should be responsible for the compulsory liquidation and bankruptcy of companies registered at the business registration authorities (administration of industry and commerce) of its own level and below, with variations possible if the provincial high court approves.

  • Staffing principles

Staffing should be according to judicial reform principles and linked to the caseload–the judges should be those familiar with liquidation and bankruptcy from the same or lower courts and they should have a clerk and judicial assistance on a 1:1:1 principle.

  • Measures needed

Improved measures are needed to supervise and evaluate liquidation and bankruptcy work; expedited liquidation and bankruptcy procedures need to be explored; promote reforms in trying liquidation and bankruptcy cases; put in place judicial responsibility (this relates to the judicial lifetime responsibility system announced in September, 2015) to ensure an honest judiciary.

  • Coordinate better with local Party/state authorities

Liquidation and bankruptcy divisions should report regularly to the local Party committee/government to seek their support and major issues should be reported to the SPC.

Some thoughts

This is a positive step although it cannot deal with the underlying political issues related to implementing bankruptcy law in China, particularly local government interference in bankruptcy cases.  Putting in place more qualified judges and support staff is a critical part of making bankruptcy law work.  The political support of the local authorities remains critical and the local judiciary provides a training and liaison function. The bureaucratic level of a troubled company (state owned enterprise) affects the ability of a court to deal its issues.

Academics reaching out beyond the universities and social media is playing a positive role in creating a corp of more competent bankruptcy specialists in the judiciary.  The Bankruptcy Law and Restructuring Research Center of the China University of Political Science and Law, directed by Professor Li Shuguang  has established a Wechat public account, which provides bankruptcy and liquidated news to the profession, including judges, as well chat groups in which Chinese bankruptcy professionals can share their experiences and tap into the experience and knowledge of others.

 

 

Ramping up China’s bankruptcy courts, the latest data

imgres-1Judging from what I observed at a conference attended by many from the distressed asset industry in Asia recently, information on what the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) is doing to ramp up bankruptcy law has not made it to distressed asset/restructuring professionals outside of China, some of whom seem to think that policy emerges fully formed from Beijing.

This blogpost shows that bankruptcy policy is in fact an evolving process, provides some new data on 2015 and 2016 cases, and summarizes the latest policy signals coming from the Supreme People’s Court in recent months.

As the first chart shows, the number of companies established in China is steadily rising Since the Chinese Company Law was amended at the end of 2013, it has been much easier to establish a company.  According to the SPC, since those reforms, an average over 10,000 new companies are established daily, but less than 70% remain in business after 5 years, and less than 50% remain in business after 9 years.  Most companies simply deregister, or live on as zombies, as the following charts show:

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companies established yearly, in units of 10,000

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cancellation of company registration

As reported earlier (and the chart below shoes), the number of bankruptcy cases has gone steadily down until 2015:

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Full year statistics for 2015 were recently released by the Supreme People’s Court–3568 new bankruptcy cases were accepted.  It is linked to the SPC ramping up bankruptcy law. Some local breakdowns:

Zhejiang:  638

Shenzhen: 131, accounting for 40% of cases in Guangdong.

Numbers for 2016:

  • January, 2016: 167.  This article lists the names of the cases;
  • February, 2016: 101, breakdown found here.
  • March, 2016: 127, breakdown found here
  • April, 2016: 153 (breakdown found here)

Following the 5th Plenum the end of 2015, the SPC has taken steps to promote the role of the courts in eliminating zombie enterprises. This was first announced at a national court conference in December, 2015 (reported here).  This is bankruptcy (insolvency) in the Chinese political and legal environment, which means extensive government involvement.

Certain local courts are taking the lead as pilot bankruptcy courts:

  • Zhejiang;
  • Shandong; and
  • Shenzhen.

Executive Vice President Du Wanhua of the SPC is the spokesman for bankruptcy policy, and in his many press statements is making the same points:

  • The courts should promote more bankruptcy reorganization and conciliation, and diminish liquidation cases (a contrast to what has occurred in recent years).  (The SPC has promoted this approach through recent reports promoting reorganizations by the courts and is continuing to promote this in its pronouncements. Local governments are adopting policies to promote reorganization of companies.)
  • A market-oriented mechanism should be established which classifies zombie enterprises.  The mechanism should distinguish ones than can be saved through restructuring or conciliation procedures from the ones that should be liquidated.  The classification should fulfil the industrial development goals, targets, and other principles of the central government.  (But, Professor Liu Zhibiao, a leading economist suggested in a recent interview that it should the market to determine this, not government.)
  • A unified coordination mechanism for bankrupt enterprises needs to be created under the local Party committee’s strong leadership and support of the relevant government departments to ensure cases are handled in an orderly manner. To avoid this “strong leadership” being implemented to protect local companies ( a study published in the fall of 2015, Ma Jian of the SPC’s research office showed that local government interference in the acceptance, and trial of bankruptcy cases is common), Judge Du proposes that jurisdiction in bankruptcy cases be consolidated in certain courts
  • The rights and interests of the state, workers, creditors, and investors should be protected (in this order).
  • A corporate restructuring bankruptcy information platform mechanism that uses modern information technology tools should be created to promote the greatest degree of success of corporate restructuring, and better use of economic resources.
  • Orderly mechanisms should be established to deal with wages, state tax, and the priority and realization of secured claims, unsecured claims.
  • Local courts should establish bankruptcy divisions and provide bankruptcy judges with better bankruptcy law training;
  • Procedures for bankruptcy administrators should be drafted and their status should be improved;
  • Special funds should be established to pay for bankruptcies and bankruptcy administrators;
  • Local governments, such as Guangdong, are starting to issue policy programs on “supply-side reforms.” The Guangdong program, issued on 28 February, contains a section on bankruptcy. The Guangdong policies mention separate databases for bankrupt state-owned and non state owned enterprises, mentioning that special policies would be forthcoming for state owned enterprises (SOEs) and that courts would be given the “green light” to deal with the bankruptcy of zombie companies. Reflecting policies seen elsewhere, the Guangdong government is seeking to encourage private enterprises to assist in re-organizing SOE zombies and is considering establishing special funds to assist companies to upgrade.
  • One of the industries that is a focus of bankruptcy is real estate.  While Shenzhen, Shanghai, and some other real estate markets are doing well, that is not the case in other locations, as discussed in this earlier blogpost.

Some of the outstanding legal policy issues:

  • Putting in place a better transition from enforcement to bankruptcy procedures (Zhejiang rules recently issued linked here);
  • Consolidating jurisdiction of bankruptcy cases;
  • Consolidating the bankruptcy of related companies;
  • Familiarizing the market with bankruptcy law;
  • Improving the regulatory structure for bankruptcy administrators (Zhejiang leading the way, see these May, 2016 regulations).

Other bankruptcy related political/economic issues:

  • Dealing with the large state-owned money losing companies (this article lists 16, but says that they are not likely to be left to market forces); and
  • Stealth unemployment of SOEs.

One of the points made at the conference is that China does not need ideas from abroad.  If that were true, there would not be so many Chinese articles on bankruptcy law reform, including by Judge Du, discussing the UNCITRAL Model Law Cross-Border Insolvency and bankruptcy law in other jurisdictions, including the United States.

Another major issue and difficult issue is cross-border insolvencies, both in situations where the offshore parent goes into bankruptcy and when a Chinese company with offshore subsidiaries goes into bankruptcy. The first situation now happens regularly, creating difficulties and uncertainties for the insolvency/bankruptcy administrator of the offshore parent as well as for creditors. The second we will see some some time in the future, when some of the over-leveraged companies that have invested abroad go into bankruptcy.

 

 

Data on medical malpractice, pollution, & product liability cases from Supreme People’s Court

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 7.19.28 PMThis blogpost continues the analysis of data from the SPC on civil cases–traffic accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, and environmental claims.

Traffic accidents

Traffic accident cases totalled about 889,000, up 11%.  China has a very high number of fatalities and injuries in road accidents, with road accidents a leading cause of death. Reasons that local court posit for the large number and increase in cases:

 

Medical malpractice

Medical malpractice cases continue to rise year on year, with this year’s increase over 16%.Law on medical malpractice is generally recognized to be inadequate.  Chinese patients (and families) are increasingly aware that litigation may result in a more favorable outcome than other methods. This may (or may not change) when regulations on the prevention and handling of medical disputes are finalized.  A draft was issued for public consultation late in 2015. The SPC participated in the drafting.  As has been reported and analyzed in a variety of publications, patients and their families often feel that the system favors medical institutions, and sometimes resort to violence, but increasingly to courts.  As mentioned last year:

  • the SP is working on new ways of trying medical malpractice cases;
  • high on its priority  is more detailed rules on the burden of proof and the standard of proof in medical malpractice cases (the new interpretation of the civil procedure law does not add significant details on this, leaving earlier rules in place);
  • the concept is to strike a balance between protecting the interests of the patients and enabling normal operation of medical institutions.

The Chinese government is seeking more foreign involvement in the medical sector.  Foreign investors contemplating establishing hospitals or clinics should be aware that their tort liability is likely to expand in the near term future.

Product Liability Claims

Product liability cases totalled 21, 828, up over 100%, accounting for a tiny fraction of disgruntled customers.  These can be expected to rise even further when the SPC issues public interest consumer litigation regulations, which it is now drafting.  A Shanghai lawyer recently noted that so few consumers resort to litigation because it is not worth the expense.  This is another area for counsel for foreign investors in China and those selling into China to monitor. It is unclear whether the SPC will solicit the public on its draft, as it did for environmental public interest litigation.  It is an area in which the legal committees of  foreign chambers of commerce should make their views known to the SPC.

Environmental litigation

Environmental tort claims totalled totalled 2370, down 15%, despite widespread pollution problems and efforts by the SPC: a judicial interpretation on environmental tort liability and the establishment of environmental divisions within local courts.  Reasons cited in the official media include the complexities of the cases, including proof of causation, and the lack of organizations that can provide evaluations needed by the court.  Another issue to complicate implementing China’s polluter pays principle in the increasing number of polluters that close up.

.

Data from the Supreme People’s Court on real estate disputes

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 3.46.14 PM

Pie chart of real estate investment disputes

Yu Yongding, Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, writing in early March, indirectly predicts a continued growth in real estate disputes.

Clearly, China has gone too far in real estate development… By the end of 2015, the unsold house floor space for the country as a whole was 700 million square meters… Facing a double-digit growth in inventory, naturally, real estate developers cut their investment deeply. At the moment, the growth rate of real estate investment has dropped to almost zero. Without stretching the imagination, one can be sure that in 2016 growth of real estate investment will enter into negative territory.

Because the economics on which the participants in real estate development deals has changed greatly, that has meant a major increase in real estate disputes in 2015.

In 2016, as an earlier blogpost flagged, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) is monitoring real estate disputes closely, because of their link with the government’s economic policy, social stability, and links with other parts of the economy. As Yu wrote, “real estate investment accounts for a fourth of the total investment. For a long period of time, real estate has been the most profitable area of investment in China.”

As set out in the earlier blogpost, in 2015, the SPC leadership identified the following problems in real estate development cases:

  • developers suing to invalidate grant contracts (under which they purchase land for development) and seek the return of the land grant fees (upon which local governments depend);
  • Developers who are short of funds and unable to hand over properties on time;
  • Declines in property prices causing “mass incidents.”
  • Cases involving real estate development and private lending, including illegal fundraising;
  • Many cases involving unpaid migrant construction workers.

According to the “big data” that the SPC recently released, in 2015, the number of cases in all categories related to real estate development rose sharply:

  • newly accepted grant contract disputes, 1368, up almost 21%.  A quick search of the SPC’s case database reveals that some of these cases have been heard in the first instance in provincial higher people’s courts and on appeal in the SPC, because of the large amounts in disputes.
  • disputes involving the sale (by developers) of real estate, 172,372 cases, up 42.29%.  Cases are up substantially in provincial cities, such as Liuzhou, Guangxi province and Zhaoqing, Guangdong, where the number of cases in the first half of 2015 were almost as much as the total for the year before.  Analysis by Zhaoqing judges of the cases revealed a laundry list of problems, such as poor government oversight of developers (because local government is desperate for investment); developers pre-selling real estate development projects although their rights to the land are in dispute; poor quality building,  misleading sales advertising, and cases involving large numbers of litigants.
  • joint venture real estate development cases, 1946, up 20%.  These refer to domestic joint venture cases, when one company provides the funding and the other the land.  Some cases involve deals between state-owned companies from different provinces, with the out of town party often trying to move the case to a more favorable venue ;
  • disputes involving compensation for demolished housing, 24,871 cases, by 33% (despite legal obstacles to bringing these cases) .(For those who understand Chinese, the Xuzhou (Jiangsu) courts have posted this video of proceedings in one such case).
  • Other types of real estate development cases, 33,605, up by 49%.

These cases (and related “mass incidents”) may be expected to rise in 2016.  Litigators with real estate expertise can be expected to be very busy.

Related to this, the SPC also expects an increase in real estate development companies going into bankruptcy.  It is for that reason that this month, one of the SPC journals has published an article by two Jiangsu High Court judges on priority in bankruptcy of real estate development companies.

 

Chinese bankruptcy courts to become “hospitals for sick companies”

hospital-clipart-hospital3As recent blogposts  (and academic studies) have shown, Chinese bankruptcy courts have been acting as underused morgues rather than hospitals for ailing Chinese companies.  The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) anticipates major changes, because (as highlighted on this blog) the government has decided that a stake needs to be driven through the heart of zombie companies.

This blogpost will focus on the role that courts are to play in clearing up zombie enterprises.  But because the role of the courts in bankruptcy is linked to other government policies, it will also flag some significant ones that have not yet come to the attention of observers outside of China. It appears that behind the scenes, officials have been working on putting together the policy machinery to do so and that the process is ongoing.

In late February, the SPC convened a conference of bankruptcy judges and other officials on dealing with zombie enterprises in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, both to transmit the newest judicial policy on bankruptcy and to find out from local judges and other officials what the issues are.

Judge Du Wanhua, a senior SPC judge, has been designated to take the lead on bankruptcy law reforms. The location of the conference is intentional, because (as mentioned in an earlier blogpost), Zhejiang Province has been piloting new approaches to bankruptcy law. The Zhejiang Higher People’s Court has been working with government to promote bankruptcy related policies, but at the same time has emphasized that the courts need to hear cases independently. In 2015, the courts of that province accepted over 600 bankruptcy cases.

According to Judge Du, the “courts are to become hospitals for sick companies.” Listed below is the approach that the SPC is intending for the lower courts to take (with some of my comments).

  • The courts should promote more bankruptcy reorganization and conciliation, and diminish liquidation cases (a contrast to what has occurred in recent years).  (The SPC has promoted this approach through recent reports promoting reorganizations by the courts and is continuing to promote this in its pronouncements. Local governments are adopting policies to promote reorganization of companies.)
  • A market-oriented mechanism should be established which classifies zombie enterprises.  The mechanism should distinguish ones than can be saved through restructuring or conciliation procedures from the ones that should be liquidated.  The classification should fulfil the industrial development goals, targets, and other principles of the central government.  (But, Professor Liu Zhibiao, a leading economist suggested in a recent interview that it should the market to determine this, not government.)
  • The rights and interests of the state, workers, creditors, and investors should be protected (listed in this order).
  • A corporate restructuring bankruptcy information platform mechanism that uses modern information technology tools should be created to promote the greatest degree of success of corporate restructuring, and better use of economic resources.  (This is consistent with government (including SPC) policy promoting the use of information technology tools);
  • A unified coordination mechanism for bankrupt enterprises needs to be created under the local Party committee’s strong leadership and support of the relevant government departments to ensure cases are handled in an orderly manner. (However, in the fall of 2015, Ma Jian of the SPC’s research office pointed to local government interference in the acceptance, and trial of bankruptcy cases, as being an major issue.
    • A local court judge writing recently described a judge’s role: “bankruptcy involves the vital interests of many people, and directly affects social harmony and stability. Thus the social dimension of bankruptcy cases determines that the court can not ” go it alone” in bankruptcy cases. Some local governments do not want companies to go bankrupt for statistical , performance, maintenance of stability and other considerations.  [According to Professor Liu, it can have a negative effect on the performance evaluation of local officials.] The court should actively seek the support of the local government where the debtor is located, to provide good placement of workers of bankrupt enterprises, payment of wages, disposal of plant or other fixed assets disposal.  By communicating with relevant departments, policy support can be provided to help pay taxes , apply for transfer [of property], coordinate the interests of creditors, debtors , investors, employees and others) ;
  • Orderly mechanisms should be established to deal with wages, state tax, and the priority and realization of secured claims, unsecured claims.
  • Local courts should establish bankruptcy divisions and provide bankruptcy judges with better bankruptcy law training;
  • Procedures should be established to consolidate related bankruptcy proceedings in different courts;
  • Procedures for bankruptcy administrators should be drafted and their status should be improved;
  • Special funds should be established to pay for bankruptcies and bankruptcy administrators.

Related to this are the following government initiatives:

  • Local governments, such as Guangdong, are starting to issue policy programs on “supply-side reforms.” The Guangdong program, issued on 28 February, contains a section on bankruptcy. The policies reiterate and further detail the principles Judge Du enounced (and merit further analysis).
    • The Guangdong policies mention separate databases for bankrupt state-owned and non state owned enterprises, mentioning that special policies would be forthcoming for state owned enterprises and that courts would be given the “green light” to deal with the bankruptcy of zombie companies. Reflecting policies seen elsewhere, the Guangdong government is seeking to encourage private enterprises to assist in reorganizing state-owned zombie enterprises and is considering establishing special funds to assist companies to upgrade.
  • The central government is also looking to simplify procedures by which companies with no debts can be closed.  During 2015, the State Administration of Industry and Commerce announced that it was piloting reforms in a number of locations, first designating Shenzhen, the Pudong district of Shanghai, and several other locations, and subsequently expanded the locations.
  • Training sessions on bankruptcy law, either within the courts or with related government agencies and institutions. In late February, the Changsha (Hunan) Intermediate People’s Court held a training session with experts from the SPC (First Circuit Court) and professors of bankruptcy law from Beijing, while the local government in Quanzhou organized cross-institutional training.
  • Local courts (such as this one in Quzhou, Zhejiang Province) are providing reports to local government/Party Committees on what the courts can do.

But what are bankruptcy judges really doing?  If a recent message on Wechat is any indication, they are reaching out to their fellow judges for guidance and creating a chat group on how to deal with the many legal and social complexities that bankruptcy cases pose.

Can bankruptcy court “doctors” save zombie enterprises and their millions of employees?  It is very early days. What can safely be said is that bankruptcy and zombie enterprise related policies merit close monitoring by lawyers, the business community and others.

 

 

First quarter 2015 bankruptcy cases in the Chinese courts

Continuing my series on bankruptcy law, this blogpost gives a quick report on 2015 first quarter bankruptcy cases in the Chinese courts, drawn from this report (including the charts used).

Bankruptcy cases accepted, by province

Bankruptcy cases accepted, by province

During that period, the Chinese courts accepted 264 bankruptcy cases.  Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Guangdong had the top number of cases, followed by Shanxi, Anhui, and Hunan.  The top bar is cases is the rest of the country. d5015987-bb7f-4ee4-812a-e711a3264557

The piechart sets out the percentage distribution of cases by province (the largest percentage is from the rest of the country).

A listing of the courts that have accepted the most bankruptcy cases bears out earlier analysis on this blog about the Shenzhen courts (Shenzhen is the court that has accepted the most bankruptcy cases in the country, with Zhangjiagang (Jiangsu Province) in second place.

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As for the types of cases, the piechart below shows that most cases (about 2/3s) were bankruptcy liquidation cases, followed by reorganization (about 1/3), with very few settlement cases.  This article explains the three different types of cases.

d5015987-bb7f-4ee4-812a-e711a3264557On the geographical distribution of the liquidation cases.the piechat above shows that most arose in Jiangsu Province (about 23%), with Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shanxi, and Anhui Provinces following in descending order.  The 40% is from the rest of the country. Several cases involve multi-tiered, overlapping layers of complex entities (as elsewhere in the world), leading Chinese courts to consolidate the bankruptcy cases of several related companies (this Harvard Law School article gives a US bankruptcy perspective on consolidation).3be5b38d-70a0-4ebd-bdae-3472f9de09ae

On the geographical distribution of the reorganization cases, the piechart above shows that greatest proportion of reorganization cases were in Zhejiang (25%) (the site of at least one pilot court for bankruptcy cases), followed by Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong/Shanxi) (the 30% is for the rest of the country).

As mentioned previously, the Supreme People’s Court expects to see an upturn in bankruptcy cases, and I would expect to see initiatives in transferring cases from enforcement to bankruptcy (an outstanding issue for the courts) and proposed solutions to achieve more reorganization and settlement cases. These are likely to happen because (as mentioned previously) the Chinese government has committed to reducing the number of zombie enterprises.  Early this spring, a conference will be held in China on the trial of bankruptcy cases, where these issues are likely to be discussed. If the organizers (and funding) permit, I will attend.

 

Accessing Chinese legal developments through Wechat

logoWechat, as most people with an interest in China know, has become the preferred form of social media in China.  The legal community in China has taken to it too.  Some are official accounts of government entities, including the courts and others are public accounts (公众账号) established by companies, law firms, individuals, and other organizations.  Each has its benefits for the user located outside of China.

To access these public accounts, it does not matter where in the world you are located, but you need a smart phone to install the Wechat app. The accounts can be accessed through “search official accounts” or “Add contacts” and typing in either the Wechat ID or the name of the account. The accounts can also be accessed through computer or table as well, by searching for the account in question.

The official government accounts enable the user to keep current on the issues and latest government position in that area of law–new policy, new legislation, and new reforms.  The Supreme People’s Court, for example, has one, as does the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, as well as their local counterparts.

Another category is the less official public accounts.   Some are affiliated with official organizations, while others are not, while others are in a grey area. The writing tends to be aimed at the professional, with less bureaucratic language .   Some accounts are aimed at practicing lawyers, more focused on civil and commercial law than criminal law or administrative law, but both can be found. Some accounts publish writings by the account holder, while others accept articles submitted by followers.  One very popular type of article is one that reviews the law and cases in a particular area of law.

Some of the legal public accounts that I follow (or are highly recommended by those that I know) are listed below.  Please use the comment function (or email me) to suggest additional accounts.

  • Arbitration:  Wechat ID: cnarb1, account of Lin Yifei, mentioned in an earlier blogpost.  I highly recommend it to both practitioners and others interested in arbitration.
  • Labor law:Wechat ID: laodongfaku (劳动法库) (with over 200,000 followers; Wechat ID: ldfview (子非鱼说劳动法);
  • Civil law 海坛特哥 (haitanlegal), account of Chen Te, formerly of the Beijing Higher People’s Court, now a lawyer (高衫legal) [his earlier posts focused on medical law], Wechat ID: gaoshanlegal;  审判研究, Wechat ID: spyjweixin; 法客帝国, Wechat ID: Empirelawyers; 审判研究, Wechat ID: msspck.
  • Criminal law: 辩护人 (bianhuren1993); 刑事实务, Wechat ID: xingshishiwu; 刑事审判参考 Wechat ID: criminailaw.
  • Judiciary: There are many, among them are: 法影斑斓 , account of He Fan, judge in the judicial reform office of the Supreme People’s Court, Wechat ID: funnylaw1978 and JunnyLaw (JunnyLaw1977) the newly established account of Jiang Qiang, a judge in the #1 Civil Division of the Supreme People’s Court, so far, articles focusing on civil law issues.
  • International law: Wechat ID: ciil 2015 国际法促进中心
  • IP law–知识产权那点事, Wechat ID: IPR888888.  The posting of 30 January, for example, includes the Supreme People’s Court judgment 11 January in its retrial of the Castel wine trademark infringement case and an article on indirect infringements of copyright on the Internet.
  • Aggregators–智和法律新媒体, Wechat ID: zhihedongfang; 法律博客, Wechat ID: falvboke,  法律读品, Wechat ID: lawread

This linked article written by Chen Te discusses how legal professionals can market themselves through a public account as well as some of the issues of having a public account.