Signals in Supreme People’s Court President Zhou Qiang’s 2018 report to NPC (part 1)

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 12.54.58 PMFor those with the ability (or at least the patience) to decode Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang’s March, 2018 report to the National People’s Congress, it provides insights into the Chinese courts, economy, and society, and of course politics.  This blogpost will address selected aspects of the first part of the report because of competing time demands.

Report drafting

To most of the world, President Zhou Qiang’s reports to the National People’s Congress (NPC) differ little from year to year.  However to President Zhou Qiang and the team of people tasked with preparing a draft that would not be thrown back in their faces, the challenges in 2018 were more formidable than previously.  This year’s report needed to highlight the SPC’s achievements of the last five years, signal that its work in the next year is harmonized with the post-19th Party Congress New Era, and hit the right notes with NPC delegates, who have in the past voted against court reports in significant numbers.

According to this report, the drafting group, which started work in late October (after the 19th Party Congress),  and as anyone familiar with China today would expect, communicated through Wechat. The high stakes report meant that President Zhou Qiang summoned members for drafting sessions during the Chinese new year holiday. The group submitted 37 drafts to President Zhou Qiang and other senior leaders, and as this blog reported in previous years on this blog, senior court leaders traveled the country to seek the views of NPC delegates and many others.

This means (as I have written before, and I have discussed in greater detail in a forthcoming paper) that the statistics have been specially selected.

The summary below (part 1) is not comprehensive but provides some highlights.

Executive summary (SPC section)

The English language Xinhua report on Zhou Qiang report drew on the introductory section, which was an executive summary of the work of the courts in the last five years, but this section will focus on the summary of SPC’s accomplishments

The SPC heard about 82,383 cases and closed about 79,692 ones, up 60.6 percent and 58.8 percent over the previous five-year period respectively. Much of this caseload is attributable to the circuit courts. For those interested, SPC court hearings (that are being heard openly) are streamed or are saved in a video library on the SPC website: (http://tingshen.court.gov.cn/). (The Supreme People’s Monitor can be seen attending a hearing here).

As mentioned previously, some SPC proceedings, including capital punishment review  and review of lower court rulings not to enforce foreign or foreign-related arbitral awards, are not considered “court hearings.”)

According to a Xinhua report on 10 May, the six circuit courts of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) accepted 2,922 (and concluded 1909) civil, administrative and criminal cases in the first three months of 2018, accounting for 67.2 percent of the total cases of these types accepted by the SPC.  It is possible to view circuit court hearings on-line on the SPC website.

A total of 8,355 petitions were handled by the circuit courts (in the first 3 months of 2018), accounting for 78.92 percent of petitions handled by the SPC. It is clear two of the goals of establishing the circuit courts (the SPC near your home (“家门口的最高法院”) are being achieved: 1)moving the hearing of many cases to the circuit courts; 2) moving the processing of most petitions to the circuit courts.  It is not clear from these statistics how many petitioners sought to petition the circuit courts (and SPC headquarters) –there are likely many more petitioners who visited than petitions accepted.  As was discussed earlier on this blog, the SPC is seeking to involve lawyers in the criminal petitioning (collateral appeals) process.

The SPC highlighted that in the past five years it had issued 119 judicial interpretations (some of which have been discussed on this blog, many translated by Chinalawtranslate.com) and issued 80 guiding cases (link to cases and analysis) (as Jeremy Daum has written, and Mark Cohen has also noted, the statistics show they are not often used by the courts), but did not release numbers on the other types of documents it had issued (this blog has discussed some of them) or the number of model cases or other cases issued by SPC divisions (this blog has recently focused on ones issued by the criminal divisions).

1. Criminal cases

As is usual, President Zhou Qiang discussed criminal cases first, the topics reflecting their political priority. A total of 6.07 million suspects were convicted in first instance trials of 5.49 million criminal cases. (During that period the Chinese courts heard almost 89 million cases, so criminal cases are clearly a small proportion of the cases heard.)

In keeping with the current political priorities, President Zhou Qiang said the courts “resolutely protect the nation’s political security, in particular the security of the state power and the political system.” Similar to last year, no statistics were given for the number of national security cases heard. He does mention the normative document the the SPC issued jointly with other authorities on religious extremism and terrorism (discussed here).

President Zhou Qiang then discusses corruption-related offenses, mentioning the  asset recovery interpretation discussed last year on this blog.  Thereafter he focuses on property and personal safety-related crimes, mentioning this year’s organized crime normative document (this blog discussed it earlier this year), as well as (among others) its accomplishments relating drug cases and medical violence.

He then discussed cases involving violence against women and children (130,000 cases over the past 5 years, food safety (42000) and environmental protection crimes (88,000), and telecommunications crime. Local court white papers have posted detailed statistics concerning many of these crimes (see a Ningbo court white paper on sexual assault cases against minors and a Shanghai district’s court white paper on environmental protection crimes).

In the concluding paragraph, President Zhou Qiang discusses SPC participation in comprehensive security management. President Zhou Qiang mentions implementing an additional responsibility system on judges of publicizing the law (普法).  This is further to a 2017 notice of the Central Committee and State Council’s General Offices Opinion on State Organs implementing “whoever enforces the law publicizes the law” law publicity responsibility system (关于实行国家机关“谁执法谁普法”普法责任制的意见) that imposes responsibility on state organs enforcing the law (administrative and justice) to publicize the law.  Judges are to use court documents, open hearings, circuit courts, streaming of court cases, and posting legal documents on-line to promote the use of cases to explain the law. It is clear that the SPC is taking the circuit court responsibility system seriously, as the SPC’s #2 Circuit Court has been posting a series of articles on its circuit visits around the Northeast (see here).  This adds somewhat to judges’ workload, but this type of responsibility is not as great a concern as the more general responsibility system.

 

 

 

 

Big data update on contested divorces in China

Recently, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Judicial Cases Research Center (最高人民法院司法案例研究院)(affiliated with the National Judicial College) issued a big data report on contested divorces in 2016-17, a follow up to their report of 18 months ago (the charts below are from the report). The report was done in conjunction with the SPC’s big data center. The Judicial Cases Research Center publishes big data reports occasionally, some in the form of this report.

As noted in earlier blogposts, the 4th Judicial Five Year Plan calls for reforms in judicial statistics:

Reform mechanisms for judicial statistics with the idea of “big data, big picture, and big service” as a guide; make a system of standards for judicial statistics that has scientific classifications and complete information, gradually building a model for analysis of empirical evidence that complies with the reality of judicial practice and judicial rules, and establish a national archive of court judgment opinions and a national center for big data on judicial information.

As I discuss in one of my forthcoming articles,  the language quoted above contains no commitment to release to the public any of this new and improved big data, but careful observation has revealed that some of the more detailed big data from the SPC big data center is being published in one of the SPC’s academic journals.

It shows that in 2017, first instance contested divorces exceeded 1,400,00, somewhat more than in 2016.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 5.32.27 PMAlmost three quarters (73%)of the plaintiffs in first instance divorce cases were women.Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 5.39.20 PM

Mostly couples sued for divorce on the basis that they no longer were compatible, and in about 15% of cases domestic violence was alleged.

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Domestic violence was alleged most often in Guangdong, Guizhou and Guangxi.

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Most of the domestic violence alleged was physical violence.Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 5.44.43 PM

In the first instance divorce cases, 91% of the domestic violence was committed by men on women.

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Supreme People’s Court strengthens judicial review of arbitration

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Judge Liu Guixiang speaking at the China Arbitration Summit

At China’s Arbitration Summit in late September, Liu Guixiang, Chief Judge of the #1 Circuit Court, called attention to a notice that the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued earlier this year to strengthen judicial review of arbitration. The notice (Notice concerning some questions regarding the centralized handling of judicial review of arbitration cases关于仲裁司法审件归口办理有关问题的通知) is linked to the likely increasing number of cases involving judicial review of arbitration matters, linked to the increasing number of arbitrations involving Chinese parties (and the One Belt One Road initiative) both in China and elsewhere in the world, including Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre.  (The notice highlights data collection problems).

The notice, reproduced below, is not an SPC judicial interpretation. Unlike judicial interpretations, notices are not required to be published. It seems that the SPC itself has not officially published it, but several official websites have published it, as have a number of Wechat accounts.

A quick search reveals that the notice drew on  a 2014 study by the Guangdong courts summarizing the results of pilot projects  (including Shenzhen) that the SPC commissioned, involving cooperation with the now independent Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration. As is usual, Guangdong and Shenzhen have led the way as pilot areas for judicial reform. The study highlighted a list of problems with the way lower courts review arbitration related issues, including lack of consistency in reviewing cases. The study also highlighted problems in tracking case data.

As Judge Liu also mentioned (as has this blog), the SPC is working on a comprehensive judicial interpretation on that subject).  That judicial interpretation is still being drafted, with the #4 Civil Division of the SPC taking the lead.

A very rough translation and some comments written in italics follow. (Many thanks to an anonymous and well-informed follower of this blog for bringing the notice to my attention and for some thoughts.) Please call translation glitches/mistakes to my attention.

最高人民法院
关于仲裁司法审查案件归口办理
有关问题的通知

法[2017]152号

Supreme People’s Court

Notice Concerning Some Questions regarding the centralized handling of judicial review of arbitration cases

Fa (2017) #152

各省、自治区、直辖市高级人民法院,解放军军事法院,新疆维吾尔自治区高级人民法院生产建设兵团分院:

To the provincial, autonomous region, directly administered municipality higher people’s courts, People’s Liberation Army Military Court,  Production and Construction Corps Branch of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Higher People’s Court:

为依法正确审理仲裁司法审查案件,保证裁判尺度的统一,维护当事人的合法权益,促进仲裁事业健康有序发展及多元化纠纷解决机制的建立,现就各级人民法院办理仲裁司法审查案件的有关问题通知如下:

To try correctly judicial review of arbitration cases according to law and guarantee a unified yardstick for judicial decision-making, protect the legal rights of parties, promote the healthy and orderly development of arbitration matters and the establishment of a diverse dispute resolution mechanism, we notify the various levels of the people’s court handling judicial review of arbitration cases of the following:

一、各级人民法院审理涉外商事案件的审判庭(合议庭)作为专门业务庭(以下简称专门业务庭)负责办理本通知规定的仲裁司法审查案件。

I.  The trial divisions (collegial panels) trying foreign-related commercial cases shall be the specialized trial divisions (below, “specialized trial divisions) responsible for undertaking the judicial review of arbitration as set out in this notice.

This means that SPC is requiring trial divisions (or collegial panels, in smaller courts) handling foreign-related commercial matters to be responsible for reviewing the arbitration related matters described in the next paragraph. It is a plus for competency/consistency in arbitration-related matters.

二、当事人申请确认仲裁协议效力的案件,申请撤销我国内地仲裁机构仲裁裁决的案件,申请认可和执行香港特别行政区、澳门特别行政区、台湾地区仲裁裁决的案件、申请承认和执行外国仲裁裁决等仲裁司法审查案件,由各级人民法院专门业务庭办理。

II.  In cases in which a party applies to have the validity of an arbitration agreement recognized, cases in which application is made to cancel a domestic arbitration commission’s award, cases in which application is made to recognize (认可) and enforce a Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR arbitration award, recognize (认可) and enforce a Taiwan area arbitration award, application is made to recognize (承认) and enforce a foreign arbitral award, shall be handled by the specialized trial divisions of each level of court.

This paragraph describes the types of cases covered by the notice–the types of judicial review of arbitration matters and that these cases should be handled by the specialized trial division of each level of court designated in the paragraph I. There is a difference in terminology (bolded above, but not in the original Chinese) when referring to the recognition of arbitral awards from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as distinguished from foreign arbitral awards, emphasizing that awards from these jurisdictions are considered part of “one country.”  Notice that cases involving domestic arbitration awards or disputes over the validity of an arbitration agreement to submit a dispute to domestic arbitration are also to be reviewed by the specialized trial division.  A big plus for consistency and competency in judicial review of arbitration matters.

专门业务庭经审查裁定认可和执行香港特别行政区、澳门特别行政区、台湾地区仲裁裁决,承认和执行外国仲裁裁决的,交由执行部门执行。

When a specialized trial division, after review, has ruled to recognize and enforce a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macau Special Administrative Region, Taiwan Region arbitration award, recognize and enforce a foreign arbitral award, the enforcement shall be transferred to the enforcement departments for enforcement.

三、一审法院作出的不予受理、驳回起诉、管辖权异议裁定涉及仲裁协议效力的,当事人不服该裁定提起上诉的案件,由二审人民法院专门业务庭办理。

III.  When the first instance court makes a ruling which relates to the validity of an arbitration agreement relating not to accept, to reject a filing or objection to jurisdiction, and a party  disagrees with the ruling and appeals, the specialized trial division of the second instance court should handle it.

This  provision channels appeals relating to arbitration matters to specialists in the second instance courts, again a plus for competency and consistency.

四、各级人民法院应当建立仲裁司法审查案件的数据信息集中管理平台,加强对申请确认仲裁协议效力的案件,申请撤销或者执行我国内地仲裁机构仲裁裁决的案件,申请认可和执行香港特别行政区、澳门特别行政区、台湾地区仲裁裁决的案件,申请承认和执行外国仲裁裁决的案件,以及涉及确认仲裁协议效力的不予受理、驳回起诉、管辖权异议等仲裁司法审查案件的信息化管理和数据分析,有效保证法律适用的正确性和裁判尺度的统一性。此项工作由最高人民法院民事审判第四庭与人民法院信息技术服务中心具体负责。

IV. Each level of people’s court should establish a centralized administrative platform for the judicial review of arbitration awards, to strengthen the informatized management and data analysis of cases regarding applications to confirm the validity of an arbitation agreement, cases regarding applications to cancel or enforce arbitration awards of our domestic arbitration institutions, applications to recognize and enforce Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macau Special Administrative Region, Taiwan Region arbitration awards, cases regarding applications to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards, and cases relating to the judicial review of arbitration such as refusal to accept, reject the filing, or objection to jurisdiction and others relating to the confirmation of the validity of an arbitration agreement; the effective guarantee of the correct application of law and of a unified yardstick for judicial decision-making.  The #4 Civil Division of the Supreme People’s Court and the People’s Courts Information Technology Service Center shall be specifically responsible for this work.

IV. This paragraph requires a platform to be established to enable better data collection of arbitration related cases. Data collection appears to be an ongoing issue for the courts.  2015 SPC rules on case file numbers (thank you to Chinalawtranslate.com for this translation), are aimed to create more consistency in filing numbers for cases, and will also be helpful in this process. Inconsistency in case files numbers was identified as a problem in the Guangdong study.) The SPC’s #4 Civil Division (in charge of cross-border civil and commercial matters) and the Information Technology Service Center are the ones responsible for ensuring this platform works.  The notice does not require data results to be made public. The legal and professional public (in China and elsewhere in the world) would look forward to regular big data reports on this.

最高人民法院

2017年5月22日

Supreme People’s Court

May 22, 2017

_______________________________________

If you like this blogpost, please join the East Asian Legal Studies Center of Harvard Law School in supporting the Supreme People’s Court Monitor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Signals in Zhou Qiang’s 2017 report (Part 2)

This blogpost continues the analysis in Part 1, which analyzed the first several sections of Zhou Qiang’s work report to the National People’s Congress, concerning court caseload, social stability and criminal punishment, and the courts serving to maintain the economy.

Most people who have commented (outside of China) on Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang’s March, 2017 report to the National People’s Congress (NPC) didn’t have the patience to read (or listen) much beyond the initial section, which mentions the conviction of Zhou Shifeng as indicating that the courts are doing their part to crack down on state subversion.  It appears to be another in a series of colorless government reports.  But for those with the ability (or at least the patience) to decode this report, it provides insights into the Chinese courts, economy, and society.

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The report, which went through 34 drafts, is intended to send multiple signals to multiple institutions, particularly the political leadership, in the months before the 19th Party Congress.

According to a report on how the report was drafted, the drafting group (which communicated through a Wechat group to avoid time-consuming bureaucratic procedures) faced the issue of how to summarize the work of the People’s Court in 2016 correctly.  The guidance from President Zhou on the report–it must:

  1. fully embody the upholding of Party leadership, that court functions (审判职) must serve the Party and country’s overall situation;
  2. embody the new spirit of reform, showing the (positive) impact of judicial reform on the courts and show the ordinary people what they have gained;
  3. not avoid the mention of problems, but indicate that they can be resolved through reform.

Underneath these political principles, the operation of a court system with Chinese characteristics is visible.

Guaranteeing people’s livelihood rights & interests

The following section is entitled  “conscientiously implement people-centered development thinking, practically guarantee people’s livelihood rights and interests.” It summarizes what the courts have been doing in civil and administrative cases, but it also signals their perceived importance in this national report.

Civil cases

President Zhou Qiang noted that the Chinese courts heard 6,738,000 civil  (民事) cases, an increase of 8.2%.  Although he did not define what he meant by civil cases, under Chinese court practice, it refers to the type of cases under the jurisdiction of the #1 civil division (see this earlier blogpost):

  1. Real estate, property and construction;
  2. Family;
  3. Torts;
  4. Labor;
  5. Agriculture;
  6.  Consumer protection; and
  7. Private lending.

On labor cases, the report mentioned that the courts heard 473,000 labor cases. This is a slight decrease from 2015 (483,311) (although the report did not do a year on year comparison). The report signalled that the SPC is working on policy with the labor authorities on transferring cases from labor mediation, labor arbitration, to the courts. This was signaled previously in the SPC’s policy document on diversified dispute resolution.  Articles on both the SPC website and local court websites have signaled the increasing difficulty of labor disputes, and the increase in “mass disputes.”

As explained in this blogpost, labor service disputes, relate to an “independent contractor,” but more often a quasi-employment relationship, governed by the Contract Law and General Principles of Civil Law, under which the worker has minimal protections. This year’s report did not mention the number of labor service cases. In 2015, the Chinese courts heard 162,920 labor service cases, an increase of 38.69%.

There was no further breakdown on the number of other types of civil cases, such as private lending or real estate cases.  For these statistics, we will need to await any further release of big data by the SPC. As blogposts in recent months indicate, private lending disputes are on the rise in economically advanced provinces and bankruptcy of real estate developers remains a concern.

This section also mentions criminal proceedings against illegal vaccine sellers, although the topic may be more appropriately be placed with the rest of the criminal matters, but likely because it is an issue that drew widespread public attention.

Family law

Echoing language in recent government pronouncements, the section heading mentions protecting marriage and family harmony and stability. The report mentions that the courts heard 1,752,000 family law cases in 2016, with no year on year comparison with 2015.  The report mentions that the SPC has established pilot family courts (as previously flagged on this blog).

Administrative disputes

First instance administrative disputes totaled 225,000 cases, a 13.2% increase over 2015, but a tiny percentage of cases in the Chinese courts. The report highlights developments in Beijing and Shanghai (they are being implemented in Shenzhen, although not mentioned), to give one local court jurisdiction over administrative cases.  According to the statistics (in Beijing, at least), this has led to a sizeable increase in administrative cases.  The report also mentions the positive role that the courts can play in resolving condemnation disputes (this blogpost looked at problems in Liaoning).

Hong Kong/Macao/Overseas Chinese cases

As mentioned by Judge Zhang Yongjian, the report mentions that the courts heard 19,000 Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Overseas Chinese related cases, and handled 11,000 judicial assistance matters with the three greater China jurisdictions.  The report also mentions the recently signed arrangement between the SPC and Hong Kong judiciary on the mutual taking of evidence, a development that seems to have escaped the notice of the Hong Kong legal community.

Military related disputes

Unusually, the report mentioned that the local courts heard 1678 military-related cases and have developed systems for coordination between the civilian and military courts.  These developments have been analyzed further in a blogpost on the Global Military Justice Reform blog.

Strictly governing the courts and institutional oversight

The following two sections of the report give a report on how the courts are upholding Party leadership, increasing Party construction within the courts, internal Party political life, and political study, all of which are in line with recent developments. Although these are stressed, this does not mean that professional competence is less valued.  The increasing caseload,  higher expectations of litigants, particularly in commercial cases, and increasing technical complexity of cases means that the SPC is in fact taking measures to improving professional capacity of the courts.  This section also mentions courts and individual judges that have been praised by central authorities and 36 judges who have died of overwork.

On anti-corruption in the courts, the report mentions that 769 senior court officials have been held responsible for ineffective leadership, 220 have been punished for violations of the Party’s Eight Point Regulations. The SPC itself had 13 persons punished for violations of law and Party discipline (offenses unstated), 656 court officials were punished for abusing their authority, among whom 86 had their cases transferred to the procuratorate.

On institutional oversight, the report signals that the SPC actively accepts supervision by the NPC, provides them with reports, deals with their proposals, and invites them to trials and other court functions. On supervision by the procuratorate, the report revealed that the SPC and Supreme People’s Procuratorate are working on regulations on procuratorate supervision of civil and enforcement cases, a procedure sometimes abused by litigants.

2016 and 2017 judicial reforms

2016

On 2016 judicial reform accomplishments, the following were highlighted:

  1. circuit courts;
  2. case filing system;
  3. diverse dispute resolution;
  4. judicial responsibility;
  5. trial-centered criminal procedure system;
  6. separation of simple from complicated cases;
  7. people’s assessors‘ reform;
  8. greater judicial openness;
  9. more convenient courts;
  10. improving enforcement (enforcement cases were up 31.6% year on year), including using the social credit system to punish judgment debtors.

2017

The report mentions that among the targets for the courts is creating a good legal environment for the successful upcoming 19th Party Congress.  That is to be done through the following broad principles:

  1. using court functions to maintain stability and to promote development (for the most part mentioning the topics reviewed earlier in the report);
  2. better satisfying ordinary people’s demands for justice;
  3. implementing judicial reforms, especially those designated by the Party Center;
  4. creating “Smart” courts; and
  5. administering the courts strictly and improving judicial quality.

This last section mentions implementing recommendations required by the recent Central Inspection Group’s (CIG) inspection and Central policies applicable to all political-legal officials, before focusing on the importance of more professional courts, and improving the quality of courts in poor and national minority areas.

A few comments

It is clear from the above summary that the content of President Zhou Qiang’s report to the NPC is oriented to the upcoming 19th Party Congress and the latest Party policies. It appears that no new major judicial reform initiative will be announced this year.

It is likely too, that the selective release of 2016 judicial statistics in the NPC report also relates to messaging in line with the upcoming 19th Party Congress, although we know that the SPC intends to make better use of big data.  We can see that overall, the caseload of the courts is increasing rapidly, including institutionally difficult cases (such as bankruptcy and land condemnation), which put judges and courts under pressure from local officials and affected litigants. In the busiest courts, such as in Shanghai’s Pudong District, judges will be working extremely long hours to keep up with their caseload, and the impact of new legal developments. It appears (from both the report and the results of the CIG inspection) that judges will need to allocate more time to political study.  How this will play out remains to be seen. We may see a continuing brain drain from the courts, as we have seen in recent years.

 

Signals in Zhou Qiang’s 2017 NPC Report (Part 1)

Most people who have commented (outside of China) on Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang’s March, 2017 report (on 2016 work) to the National People’s Congress (NPC) didn’t have the patience to read (or listen) much beyond the initial section, which mentions the conviction of Zhou Shifeng as indicating that the courts are doing their part to crack down on state subversion.  It appears to be another in a series of colorless government reports.  But for those with the ability (or at least the patience) to decode this report, it provides insights into the Chinese courts, economy, and society.

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The report, which went through 34 drafts, is intended to send multiple signals to multiple institutions, particularly the political leadership, in the months before the 19th Party Congress.

According to a report on how the report was drafted, the drafting group (which communicated through a Wechat group to avoid time-consuming bureaucratic procedures) faced the issue of how to summarize the work of the People’s Court in 2016 correctly.  The guidance from President Zhou on the report–it must:

  1. fully embody the upholding of Party leadership, that court functions (审判职) must serve the Party and country’s overall situation;
  2. embody the new spirit of reform, showing the (positive)impact of judicial reform on the courts and show the ordinary people what they have gained;
  3. not avoid the mention of problems, but indicate that they can be resolved through reform.

Underneath these political principles, the operation of a court system with Chinese characteristics is visible.

A partial decoding of the report reveals the points listed below (to be continued in Part 2).

1. Caseload on the rise

The caseload in the Chinese courts continues to rise significantly, at the same time that headcount in the courts is being reduced.  Diversified dispute resolution (the jargon outside of China is alternative dispute resolution) is being stressed.

  • SPC itself is dealing with a massive increase in its cases, 42.6% higher than 2016, and that number was significantly higher than 2015.
    Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 4.07.25 PM.png

    2016, SPC cases accepted 22,742, up 42.3%, concluded 20151, 42.6%, Circuit Cts #1 & 2 accepted 4721 cases in last 2 yrs, resolved 4573 cases

     

The statistics on the SPC’s caseload are not broken down further, but are understood to be mostly civil, commercial, and administrative.  It appears from a search of one of the case databases that not all of the SPC judgments or rulings have been published (a search of one of the judgment databases showed 6600+, and only some of the death penalty approvals). It seems also that the database does not include SPC cases such as the judicial review of certain foreign and foreign-related arbitration awards.

Although the report does not focus on the reasons for the massive increase in SPC cases, careful observation reveals the following reasons:

  • establishment of the circuit courts, hearing more cases and ruling on applications for retrials;
  • increase in the number of civil and commercial cases with large amounts in dispute;
  • SPC itself has implemented the case registration system; and
  • changes in law giving litigants rights where none previously existed.

The report also mentioned that 29 judicial interpretations were issued (some analyzed on this blog) and that 21 guiding cases were issued.  Model cases and judicial policy documents were not separately set out, although some were listed in the appendix to the SPC report distributed to delegates.

Lower courts

23,030,000 cases accepted by lower courts, up 18%, cases resolved, 19,773,000; amounts in dispute up 23%

The pie chart below sets out the statistical distribution of cases heard by the Chinese courts:

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 9.59.06 PMThe pie chart of cases heard, enforced and closed in 2016 shows:

  • about 60% of those cases were civil, commercial, or intellectual property cases;
  • 6.41% criminal cases,
  • 3.40% parole, sentence reduction cases;
  • almost 26% enforcement cases,
  • .03% state compensation cases,
  • petition or application for retrial, .91%;
  • and 1.66% administrative cases.

Although the stress in Zhou Qiang’s report is placed on law and order, in fact many more cases in the Chinese courts are civil and commercial rather than criminal.

2. Social stability, public order, law & order are major concerns

Criminal cases have a prominent place in the report, although the data reveals a slight increase in the number of cases  (1.5%), involving the conviction of 1,220,000 people, down 1%. (Note that many minor offenses are punished by the police, with no court procedures).

Although the report mentioned the Zhou Shifeng case (state security) and criminal punishment of terrorist and cult crimes, it did not release statistics on the number of cases of any of these crimes heard.  Corruption cases totaled 45,000 cases, involving 63,000 persons.  Violent crimes (murder, robbery, theft) cases 226,000. Drug cases: 118,000, a significant decrease from 2015. 2016 cases of human trafficking and  sexual assault on women and children totaled 5335, while telecommunications fraud cases in 2016 totaled 1726.  Only 213 cases involving schoolyard bullying were heard and the SPC revealed that the drafting of a judicial interpretation on the subject is underway. The report highlighted some of the well-known criminal cases, including the insider trading case against Xu Xiang and the Kuai Bo obscenity cases to illustrate and criminal law-related judicial interpretations to signal that the courts are serving policy needs in punishing crime.

The same section described what has been done in 2016 to correct mistaken cases, highlighting the Nie Shubin case (reheard by Judge Hu Yuteng and colleagues) as an example.  The report revealed that the local courts retried only 1376 criminal petition cases, likely a tiny fraction of the criminal petitions submitted.

3. Maintain economic development

As President Zhou Qiang indicated, the way that the Chinese courts operate is Party/government policy-driven (they must serve the greater situation). Serving the greater situation meant, in 2016, that the Chinese courts heard 4,026,000 first instance commercial cases, a 20.3% increase year on year.  He also mentioned the 3373 bankruptcy cases analyzed in an earlier blogpost. Of those 4 million commercial cases, 1,248,000 involved securities, futures, insurance, and commercial paper and 255,000 real estate cases and 318,000 rural land disputes. Other implications are discussed below.

This section of the report devoted a paragraph to a topic discussed last year on this blog: the courts serving major government strategies, including One Belt One Road, the Yangtze River Belt, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei coordinated development.

Green development , intellectual property (IPR), property rights (of private entrepreneurs), serving maritime and major country strategy, socialist core values, judicial solutions to new problems and cross-border assistance also merited mention in this section.

  1. The courts heard 133,000 environmental and natural resources cases, with Fujian, Jiangxi and Guizhou courts designated as experimental environmental courts.  While public interest environmental and procuratorate brought (environmental) cases were mentioned, statistics were not set out.
  2. First instance IPR cases totaled 147,000, with several cities (Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuhan, and Chengdu) establishing IPR divisions to take cases across administrative boundaries. This section mentioned the Jordan trademark case and the IPR courts.
  3. On protection of property rights, the report mentioned some of the documents intended to protect private entrepreneurs discussed on this blog, as well as 10 model cases.
  4. On maritime and cross-border cases, the report mentions the judicial interpretations on maritime jurisdiction (discussed in this blogpost), intended to support the government’s maritime policy, including in the South China Sea.  The Chinese courts heard only 6899 commercial cases involving foreign parties (this means that of the 2016 19,200 civil and commercial cases mentioned by Judge Zhang Yongjian, most must have been civil) and 16,000 maritime cases. The report again mentions making China a maritime judicial center, further explained in my 2016 article.
  5. On the relevance of socialist core values to the courts, that is meant to incorporate socialist core values into law (although they should be understood to have always to be there) and to give the Langya Heroes special protection under China’s evolving defamation law.
  6. Judicial solutions to new issues included internet related issues, including e-commerce cases, internet finance cases, and theft of mobile data; the first surrogacy case, and judicial recommendations to Party and government organizations.
  7. In the section on international cooperation, President Zhou Qiang revealed that fewer than 3000 cases involving mutual judicial assistance were handled. The bureaucratic and lengthy procedures for judicial assistance in commercial cases has long been an issue for lawyers and other legal professional outside of China.  This is likely to change (in the long run, as Chinese courts increasingly seek to obtain evidence from abroad).  US-China dialogue on bankruptcy issues and cooperation with One Belt One Road countries (cases involving these countries are increasing significantly), were also mentioned here.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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.