I recently published an article in the Tsinghua China Law Review on Chinese case law in practice, building on several blogposts I had previously written and articles by fellow bloggers Jeremy Daum and Mark Cohen. Many thanks are due to the persons who shared their experience and observations with me. A special thank you is due to the persons who provided detailed comments on earlier drafts.
Supreme People’s Court (SPC) President Zhou Qiang has been widely quoted for saying in January of this year that Chinese courts should strengthen ideological work and show the sword to mistaken Western ideas of “constitutional democracy”, “separation of powers” and “judicial independence.” What is not widely known outside China is that the relationship between the Chinese judiciary and some of the major international judiciaries (I’ll use the term “Western”) is more nuanced than it appears. Close observation reveals the following:
- high-level summits between major foreign and Chinese judiciaries;
- senior Western judges speaking to or providing training to senior Chinese judges;
- pilot projects in the Chinese courts involving foreign judiciaries;
- SPC journals and media outlets publishing the translation of cases from and reports of major Western judiciaries; and
- SPC judges reviewing legislation, institutions, and concepts from other judiciaries in judicial reform.
The official position on borrowing/referring to foreign legal models is set out in the 4th Plenum Decision (as I wrote earlier):
Draw from the quintessence of Chinese legal culture, learn from beneficial experiences in rule of law abroad, but we can absolutely not indiscriminately copy foreign rule of law concepts and models.
President Xi Jinping further elaborated this view on his visit to China University of Political Science and Law on May 3:
China shall actively absorb and refer to successful legal practices worldwide, but they must be filtered, they must be selectively absorbed and transformed, they may not be swallowed whole and copied (对世界上的优秀法治文明成果，要积极吸收借鉴，也要加以甄别，有选择地吸收和转化，不能囫囵吞枣、照搬照抄).
[The Xinhua report on Xi’s visit in English–“China should take successful legal practices worldwide as reference, but not simply copy them” omits the detail found in the Chinese reports.
Some examples of the way the SPC considers the “beneficial legal experiences in the rule of law abroad”:
- High level summits (some of which were agreed to on a presidential/head of state level) on commercial legal issues, such as the August, 2016 U.S.-China (or China-U.S.) Judicial Summit
“Our three talented and experienced U.S. judges discussed with senior Chinese judges and other experts topics relevant to commercial cases, ranging from case management to evidence, expert witnesses, amicus briefs, the use of precedents and China’s system of “guiding cases.” Speakers from both sides gave presentations that explored complex questions on technical areas of law. The conversations, during the formal meetings and tea breaks, were lively, candid, direct and constructive, highlighting both the similarities in and important differences between the U.S. and Chinese legal and judicial systems. I told our Chinese hosts that the views our judges expressed would be entirely their own, reflecting our separation of powers and the independence of our judiciary. Our judges displayed that independence as they weighed in on a range of issues, such as the role of precedents in interpreting statutes and the challenge of balancing public access to information while safeguarding privacy and protecting trade secrets.
Several of the Chinese participants discussed pending cases in U.S. courts involving Chinese defendants. I [William Baer] believe it was useful for us to air our differences and for our experts to exchange views on technical and sensitive areas of law. At the meeting, it was clear that although we come from different backgrounds and will not always agree, we all recognize the importance of legal reasoning and that increased transparency is a way of earning the public’s trust in the fairness and objectivity of the judicial system.”(from the DOJ website).
2. Training of Chinese judges by foreign judges
A number of foreign judiciaries have in place long-term training programs with the Chinese judiciary, with the German judiciary among the pioneers. The National Judicial College (NJC) (affiliated with the SPC) has a long-term program in place with the Germany judiciary, involving the German Judicial Academy, the German Federal Ministry of Justice & Consumer Protection, GIZ (the German international cooperation organization) and other parties, which teaches subsumption and related techniques of applying laws to facts (further explained here). The NJC has published a set of textbooks that apply the subsumption method to Chinese law.
It is likely that close to 10,000 Chinese judges have been trained under the German program. Common sense indicates that the NJC has continued with the program because it is useful to Chinese judges.
A recent example of the German training program is illustrated by the photo above, showing Dr. Matthias Keller, presiding judge of the Aachen administrative court giving a training course on the methodology of the application of law in administrative law to 150 Chinese administrative judges, mostly from intermediate and higher people’s courts.
3. Pilot projects in the Chinese courts involving foreign judiciaries
Australian judges have worked with the Australian Human Rights Commission on a ‘Sino-Australia Anti-Domestic Violence Multi-Agency Putian Pilot Program’ in Putian, Fujian Province, involving judges from the SPC, Fujian Higher People’s Court, and Putian Intermediate Court.
4. Publishing the translation of cases and reports from foreign judiciaries.
Some examples in recent months include:
- excerpts from Supreme Court decision Padilla v. Kentucky (published 7 February 2017), for those unfamiliar, it relates to plea bargaining and effective counsel);
- U.S. Chief Justice Robert’s 2016 year end report on the federal judiciary;
- U.S. federal judiciary’s strategic plan, for their takeaways for a Chinese audience;
- Summary of a July, 2016 report on cameras in the federal courts;
- Summary of the UK’s 2015 Civil Justice Council’s Online Dispute Resolution Advisory Group’s report on Online Dispute Resolution for Low Value Civil Claims.
5. Considering foreign legal concepts in judicial reform
Foreign legal concepts are considered by the SPC in a broad range of areas of legal reform, most of them unknown to foreign observers. Several of the more well known examples include: plea bargaining (see this article by an SPC judge (a comparison with the US “model” is included in Jeremy Daum’s analysis of China’s expedited criminal procedure reform). Last year’s policy document on diversified dispute resolution (previous blogpost here) specifically mentions considering concepts from abroad，On the ongoing amendments to the Judges’ Law (the draft has not yet been released), SPC Vice President Shen Deyong said in late April, “we need to learn from and refer to the successful practices of the management system of the judicial team by jurisdictions abroad, but they must be selectively filtered for Chinese use (要学习借鉴域外法官队伍管理的制度成果，甄别吸收,为我所用)。
A careful review of official statements, publications, and actions by the SPC and its affiliated institutions, as well as research by individual SPC judges shows an intense interest in how the rest of the world deals with some of the challenges facing the Chinese judiciary coupled with a recognition that any possible foreign model or provision will need to fit the political, cultural, economic, and institutional reality of China, and that certain poisonous ideas must not be transplanted. [Those particularly interested could pore through two publications of the SPC judicial reform office (Guide to the Opinions on Comprehensively Deepening Reforms of People’s Courts and the Guide to the Opinions on Judicial Accountability System of People’s Courts, in which the authors discuss relevant provisions in principal jurisdictions abroad.]
Those who either are most concerned about diluting the Chinese essence of the SPC (or jealous/emotionally bruised) seem to have saved their most poisonous criticism for off-line comments, as I am unable to locate a written version of the nasty comments that a senior Chinese academic shared with me about the over-Westernization of judicial reform or other nasty comments said to have been made about research by certain SPC judges into foreign legal systems. It is hard to know whether the persons involved are motivated by jealousy or a real belief that these measures described above will have a negative effect on the development of the Chinese judiciary. It seems safe to say that the concerns raised in the 19th century on the dilution of the essence of Chinese culture when borrowing from the West seem to be alive and well in the 21st century.
In August, 2016, I wrote about how non-guiding Chinese cases are guiding the development of Chinese law. I described what I saw as a prevalent practice in the Chinese judiciary that judges search a particular issue to see how other courts have decided a particular issue or the elements to which they have looked when deciding a particular issue. In that blogpost, I questioned whether the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) had noticed this practice. Under a recent SPC policy document that will become effective on 1 May, this prevalent practice will become a required practice. The SPC’s Opinions on Putting a Judicial Responsibility System in Place and Improving Mechanisms for Trial Oversight and Management (Provisional) contains the following phrase:
6. All levels of people’s courts shall give full play to the professional judges’ conferences and adjudication committee’s roles in summarizing trial experience unifying judgment standards; and on the foundation of improving working mechanisms such as consulting similar cases and judgment guidance; a mechanism is to be established requiring the search of similar cases and relevant cases, to ensure a uniform judgment standard for similar cases, and the uniform application of law.
This requires judges to do what many of them have been already doing –searching the case databases for prior cases that raise the same or similar issues and other issues related to the principal one(s). This principle will be applicable to judges hearing all sorts of cases–civil, criminal, administrative, enforcement, and intellectual property. It will not be evident to the reader of a Chinese judgment or ruling that searches have been done because non-guiding cases may not be cited.
Requiring a search of prior and related cases is an important step in the evolution of the Chinese case law system. That system (as I wrote recently), supplements and informs judicial interpretations. Judicial interpretations often take years to be finalized. National legislation (by the National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee) is hopelessly inadequate for the needs of the court system. Case law is needed to fill in the gaps. Judges, who are assuming greater individual responsibility for their decisions, need case law for more specific guidance.
In her remarks in November, 2016 focused on intellectual property, Justice Tao Kaiyuan revealed the thinking of the SPC leadership:
The construction of the case guidance system [Chinese case law] is not to create a new legal source, but to…uncover the broader consensus of the industry, to further refine legal rules and to provide better law for society. It is also expected to lay the foundation for the drafting of judicial interpretations…The function of the intellectual property case guidance system is to enhance the predictability of the judiciary by establishing an intellectual property case guidance system to promote the unity of judicial standards.
The nine presiding judges of the #2 Circuit Court are whom Chief Judge Hu Yunteng calls “The Nine.” It could be: 1) Judge Hu is a fan of the Jeffrey Toobin book on the (US) Supreme Court, which has a Chinese translation thanks to Judge He Fan; or 2)he wants others to know that he has some basic knowledge about the US Supreme Court. (For the avoidance of any doubt, this does not mean Judge Hu is looking to transport the US judicial system to China).
The role and utility of China’s circuit courts have moved into public focus with the establishment of four additional circuit courts (discussed earlier). Some have commented that they have been established just to divert petitioners from Beijing.An article published by a European think tank commented that the circuit courts weaken the power of local judges and courts in the provinces.
But when analyzing what Chinese courts do and how they operate, moving away from grand theory and into the specifics of what they do provides (to this foreign observer and I trust Chinese ones as well) more nuanced insights. It helps to understand better what the circuit courts are doing, how Chinese courts operate, how Chinese judges think, and what practical solutions Chinese judges evolve in the context of their political, legal and social environment. What exemplifies this is a report that the #2 Circuit Court did on petitioning appeals related to criminal cases (第二巡回法庭刑事申诉来访情况分析报告). The report concerns petitions for retrial made under the Criminal Procedure Law’s trial supervision procedure.
While the full report does not seem to be easily available, Chief Judge Hu Yunteng summarized some of what appear to be the main findings of the report in a June, 2016 interview with 中国审判 (China Trial), a SPC journal and Wechat account. The audience for China Trial is primarily his brother and sister judges, so his comments were relatively frank and the legal context about which he was speaking would be taken for granted. His comments, which I am summarizing below, reflect the insights of someone who lived through the Cultural Revolution, and has worked at the intersection of legal research and judicial practice for many years. (His Chinese profile is more complete than the English one).
He said that his remarks were drawn from his experience in hearing nearly 200 cases at the #2 Circuit Court, the majority of which were criminal petition cases (刑事申诉)(cases retried under trial supervision procedures). The cases, he said, reflect issues with criminal cases both at first instance or on appeal, as well issues all courts face coping with criminal petitions. Moreover, he said, the #2 Circuit Court (and SPC headquarters) have more and more petitioners seeking redress, plus an ever increasing backlog of cases. People have been petitioning for a little as 3-5 years, long as 10-18 years, or even 20-30 years, clocking over a hundred visits. Over 700 petitioners visited the #2 Circuit Court with grievances about the decisions of the Liaoning Higher People’s Court.
Judge Hu gave his views on why are there so many of these cases and what should be done.
Why so many cases?
(Graph tracking petitioner visits to the #2 Circuit Court (not from the interview):
A summary of Judge Hu’s analysis follows below, with some comments in brackets.
Reasons for these cases
“The reasons are complicated.” He believed that the number of mistaken/unjust cases were small in number, and 90% of the petitioning cases involved cases decided properly, with 9% with some errors, but only 1% with errors serious enough for the case to be re-tried. The reasons, he believed, lay deeper.
- Defects in the criminal procedure system. It has a two instance system, with the second instance as final; time limits on hearing criminal cases; and criminal petitioning system. With societal change and ordinary people have greater legal consciousness and demands for justice. This criminal procedure system is incompatible with current societal demands (这些制度已经不能适应新时期的需要). In some areas of China, there are more petitions from second instance decisions than appeals.
Most jurisdictions, whether common law or continental (including Hong Kong and Macau) have a three-instance system, and if China does not change this and have a limited third instance system, the criminal case petitioning problem will not be solved. The strict time limits mean facts are not clarified, a good job is not done at trial, and case quality is not maintained, creating errors that causing petitioning. The lack of time limits on petitioning is a major reason that it exists. [Note: Judge Hu saying this does not mean the Chinese government will change its system immediately or in the near future. His voice is a powerful and persuasive voice identifying this as a core reason for so many petitions, but this must be understood within the context that he said it. This is his analysis, not a signal that the Chinese government will change its criminal justice system immediately.
Implementing a [limited] three-instance system is a major criminal justice policy change, with social stability, financial and personnel implications (as seen from the government’s perspective). Proposals to make such a fundamental change to criminal procedure law would come after a great deal of analysis and consultation with the authorities involved. Judge Hu does not elaborate on what he means by a limited third instance system, but research shows this concept is being explored by a variety of thinkers and scholarship on the topic dates back over 10 years. Those following Chinese criminal justice system reforms should be aware that the renown Professor Chen Guangzhong revealed (in an interview in June, 2016) that amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law are under consideration, although the details are not yet known. ]
2. Problems in judicial practice. There aren’t enough staff to hear the cases carefully, and cases are no longer limited to traditional crimes, with cases more complicated and evidence harder to assemble. More sophisticated defendants no longer passively accept the sloppy work being done by people handling these cases (办案人员)(referring to police/prosecutors/judges, as appropriate). It causes errors in: collection of evidence; forensics; determinations; incomplete compliance with legal procedures; inappropriate legal explanations; cases handled inappropriately. Moreover,the cases reflect problems in the way a significant proportion of those handling cases think about law: failure to correctly understand basic legal relationships such as fighting crime and protecting defendant’s rights; the relationship between public security, procuratorate, and courts; the relationship between handling criminal cases and resolving social conflicts, etc. All these things cause an increase in the number of petitioners. [Again, this his analysis reflecting his many years of experience and observation.]
3. Changes in the legal and social environment. These are another set of reasons for so many criminal petitioning cases.Judge Hu said, actually, the increase in criminal petitioning isn’t an entirely bad phenomenon. It is part of the process in improving the rule of law. The state respects human rights more and people are more aware of their rights and are increasingly daring to defend their rights.Moreover, societal public opinion has encouraged people after they have read in the media that mistaken/unjust cases have been corrected. Moreover, criminal punishment for the same offense has varied greatly, depending on whether it was during the “Strike Hard” or other campaigns, so when people look from today’s perspective at these cases, they feel it is unfair.
What to do about it?
Judges dealing with these cases need legal knowledge and political wisdom.
- Respect petitioners. Petitioning is a basic human right. Judges should not think that petitioners are making trouble from nothing. In the #2 Circuit Court Judge Hu requires judges receiving petitioners to be patient in explaining the law. So treating petitioners’ litigation rights seriously is a way to deal with them
- According to law, petitions should be submitted to the court that heard the case originally. The case filing or trial supervision departments of these courts should seriously review the cases, if there is an error, retry the case on the court’s own initiative. If the case lacks errors, the facts and law should be explained to the petitioning party. This is assuming responsibility to the facts, law, parties, and people.
- The higher courts need to do a better job of supervising the lower courts. Courts need to balance respect for effective judgments with a party’s petitioning rights. Courts should determine whether the issue is procedural or substantive. Cases can’t be rushed–some can be dealt with quickly and others not. Higher courts should take on more difficult and complicated cases themselves.
- Petitioning cases should be heard by three judge collegial panels, by reviewing the file and questioning persons if needed, questioning the party and if he (she) is in custody, summoning him for questioning, hearing the views of the party’s lawyer if one has been appointed and making contact with the party and his lawyer an important way to deal with these cases. Moreover, the lower courts should appoint more qualified and experienced people to handle criminal petitions, as it is often not currently the case.
- As some of these cases relate to a specific time period, sometimes it is necessary to work with the higher or lower courts, or seek support from the government or Party to deal the matter. For example, some cases were correctly decided at the time, but the decision is no longer appropriate under current circumstances. Retrial is not possible but coordination is possible through the implementing authorities [presumably the jail] or procuratorate.
Connection with judicial reform
Presumably Judge Hu’s report and analysis are part of a project connected with larger judicial reform issues. See Article 36 of the 4th Five Year Court Reform Plan:
36. Reform the system for petitioning involving litigation.Improve mechanisms for the separation of petitioning and litigation work, clarifying the standards, scope and procedures for separating litigation and petitioning. Create finality mechanisms for petitioning involving litigation, standardizing the sequence for petitioning involving litigation in accordance with law. Establish mechanisms for steering and receiving petitioners at their source, and innovation networks for handling petitioning. Promote the establishment of a system for lawyer representation of in complaint appeals cases. Explore the establishment of mechanisms for lawyers to participate as third-parties, increasing the diversity of joined forces for resolving conflicts in petitioning related to litigation.
Effect of these comments
Presumably Judge Hu has sought to implement some of his own recommendations, such as requiring his own judges to do a better job receiving petitioners, and expecting the lower courts to do the same. It is likely that Judge Hu has made his views known in meetings with judges from Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang. So this appears to be one piece of evidence that the circuit courts are having an effect on the quality of justice delivered.
Since petitioners “vote with their feet,” it appears that one indicator would be a downturn in the number of petitioners with grievances about criminal cases in the Liaoning Courts. How his report and recommendations will be considered nationwide remains to be seen. As a member of the SPC’s judicial committee, his full report and more detailed recommendations are likely to have an impact on the thinking of SPC colleagues. As to the larger issues Judge Hu has raised, we are unlikely to see any immediate or short term impact because of the complex politics linked to those reforms.
Much has been written on why Chinese judges are resigning (but not enough about Chinese prosecutors–to be the subject of a later blogpost), but this blogpost (written on the road) adds some more detail and analysis. Comments (and criticism) are welcomed.
In May (2016), Chen Haiguang, the head of the judicial management department of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) revealed that over 1000 judges had left, which he described as about 1% of the judiciary. The number appears to be an underestimate. The legal Wechatosphere often mentions that a Wechat chat group of former Beijing-based (including the SPC) judges has reached its maximum of 500 members.
More data and analysis comes from two sources: a survey conducted in the fall of 2015 and published by Wusong (a big thank you to another “authoritative person” for bringing this to my attention) and a recent article by one of the more popular Wechat public accounts, Empire Lawyers ( 法客帝国).
Respondees to survey
Six hundred former judges responded to the survey, conducted through social media, of which 72% had left within the past year, while almost 19% had left within the past 2-3 years.
Who is leaving
It is mostly men leaving the judiciary, out of proportion with the ratio of men:women in the judiciary (2:1). (This confirms what I have been saying when I have spoken on this issue). The survey gives the rationale that men are more interested in a challenging career than women, and are able to deal with a more pressured life.
Judges are resigning in their 30’s, for the most part (see below), and my own analysis is that the reason women are staying in the judiciary is that (married) women at that age also have responsibilities to children and elderly parents. Women are prepared to deal with the stresses of working in the judiciary because the work is more “stable,” and does not involve marketing work after business hours.
Age and education
Over half (55%) of the judges resigning are in their 30’s. Most (70%) have been in the judiciary for at least 6 years, with practically all (91%) with at least 4 years of experience, over 99% with an undergraduate degree and 37% with a master’s degree.
Type of court and area of work
Most judges who have resigned recently are from the basic level (78%) and intermediate level courts (18%).
Many (almost 80%) of the judges who had resigned were in the civil/commercial divisions, with division chiefs and deputy division chiefs accounting for 14% and 19% respectively.
Reasons for leaving:
- benefits insufficient (66% selected this as primary reason);
- too much pressure and too much work (60%);
- not enough opportunity for promotion (34%);
- professional risk and lack of professional respect (31%).
Those that have resigned are generally pessimistic about judicial reform (47%) or can’t say for certain whether it will be successful (32%). Their “judges’ dream” is to be able to try cases independently, without reporting their case up to the leadership, worrying about parties to the case petitioning because they are unhappy with the outcome, etc.
Another analyst (the editor of the Wechat account Empire Lawyers) gave three reasons for the wave of judges submitting their resignations.
- Judicial reform;
- Other factors (especially money).
Why Wechat? Because it has given them a new universe of social connections outside the judiciary. It also gives them easy access to information about the life of former judges similar to themselves. Moreover, through Wechat they can create a circle of friends and connections who can provide moral support when they have made the decision to resign. According to the editor, Wechat is often a vehicle for judges preparing to resign. Some judges establish their own Wechat public accounts while still in the judiciary, publishing articles that bring much more attention from legal professionals to their expertise than their judgments ever do.
The increased stresses of judicial reform are another set of factors–the lifetime responsibility system, case registration system, and particularly, the bright line quota on the number of judges (no more than 39%) means that promotions will come more slowly than previously and others will not even be eligible to participate in the examinations for qualifying as a judge.
Other factors? The editor cited money, particularly judges in major cities with high costs of living. The fact remains that middle-class life in China’s major cities, particularly for couples with a child, is expensive and judicial salaries, tied to civil service rank, are inadequate. As the editor mentioned, some judges supplement their wages with (legal) inome from writing or lecturing. (It seems likely in the current atmosphere, fewer judges are willing to risk soliciting illegal income.)
There is also the rigidity of the Party/state cadre management system. While law firm partner classmates are posting photos of themselves at Yosemite or in the Grand Tetons on Wechat, judges must obtain permission to leave the country
Finally, this couplet is popular on legal oriented Wechat:
Q: Do you regret resigning from the court?
Q: Why do you regret it?
A: I regret that I left too late.
From 1 July 2016, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) is (in principle) broadcasting live all its public trials (public hearings) (better understood by those from a common law jurisdiction as an appellate court hearings) on its own Court TV website.
SPC broadcasts also include hearings by the #2 Circuit Court (in Shenyang) and #1 Circuit Court in Shenzhen. The technical platform is provided through Sina.com and a private company. The SPC describes its online broadcasts as its fourth transparency platform.
Some of the cases that the SPC considers do not have public hearing procedures, such as its capital punishment review and judicial review of decisions concerning foreign and foreign-related arbitral awards.
As of 14 July, there almost 30 cases for which the videos are available, many of which involve lending, either bank or private lending and real estate-related disputes, and are primarily civil cases. Some of the cases include:
- Application for Re-trial, Nestle vs. State Administration of Industry and Commerce Trademark Review and Reconsideration Board (TRAB);
- Loan dispute heard in the #2 Circuit Court involving a Nanning private company, Bank of China, Liaoning, and the Vansun Group (in this case, counsel for the Nanning company alleges the CEO of the company was incapacitated by alcohol (over 1 jin-500 grams) when he signed the loan contract)
- A Fujian investment co. v. Guizhou real estate development company (private lending dispute).
It provides a window into the world of Chinese commercial disputes.
SPC Vice President Jing Hanchao, who was apparently tasked with implementing this development, is quoted by the official press as saying:
the live webcasts will be significant progress for judicial openness. With full transparency of trials online, the public can better play their supervisory role.
Live broadcasts will also drive judges to strengthen their capabilities, thus improving the judicial system…
..live webcasts will create a large amount of data that will help jurists study China’s legal system.
Having their advocacy broadcast on line may also drive lawyers to strengthen their advocacy skills as well.
For persons interested in the Chinese judiciary, it provides easy access to SPC court hearings, without the hassle of special permission, letters of introduction, and trips to Beijing.
Lawyers in Beijing do not seem to be aware of this development, at least judging by the lawyer acting for TRAB, who arrived in the courtroom after the hearing began.
Some outstanding questions
This decision by the SPC raises a number of questions.
- Were the parties asked whether they consented to having their case broadcast on line? It is not apparent from the recordings that I have seen.
- Individual parties read out their personal identification numbers on the recordings. Could this be an invasion of their privacy?
- The recently promulgated People’s Court Courtroom Rules (translation here (thank you Chinalawtranslate.com) and original here) lacks any type of balancing test:
- Article 11: In any of the following situations, for trial activities that are conducted openly in accordance with law, the people’s courts may use television, the internet or other public media to broadcast or record images, audio or videos.
- The 2010 regulations on the broadcast of cases (关于人民法院直播录播庭审活动的规定) lack specific procedures enabling individuals to protect their rights. Do judicial reforms contemplate more specific procedures enabling litigants (or defendants) to refuse to have their case broadcast online?
Mac users may find that the platform works better through the Safari browser than Google Chrome.
On 29 June 2016, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued a policy document on diversified dispute resolution (Opinion on the people’s courts more deeply reforming the diversified dispute resolution mechanism) (Diversified Dispute Resolution Opinion)(关于人民法院进一步深化多元化纠纷解决机制改革的意见). The document uses the term “diversified dispute resolution” (consistent with Chinese practice) rather than “alternative dispute resolution” (more often used outside of China) to reflect the central place of mediation, arbitration, and conciliation in Chinese dispute resolution. (This post has been superseded by the 31 July version.)
It was accompanied by regulations on court-appointed mediators. For those interested in the way the SPC works, it is another example of an SPC policy document in the form of an “opinion” (discussed here) accompanied by regulations (a type of judicial interpretation, discussed here).
The policy document sets out in a consolidated form the SPC’s latest policies on mediation, arbitration, and its relationship with litigation. It provides a framework for further reforms. It is intended to inform the lower courts as well as related Party/government agencies of forthcoming reforms. It signals to the central leadership that the SPC is on course to achieve one of the reform targets set out in the 4th Court Reform Plan. The current head of the SPC’s judicial reform office, Judge Hu Shihao, spoke at the press conference announcing the Diversified Dispute Resolution Opinion, indicating that the office took the lead in drafting it.
A summary follows below, highlighting, based on a quick reading, focusing on its:
- objectives and origin;
- signals and practical implications.
A very useful academic article on diversified dispute resolution, with survey data and more on the political background, can be found (behind a paywall) here. (To the many academics and practitioners who have written on this topic, please feel free to use the comment function or email to expand/contradict, or correct this).
Objectives & origin
The SPC issued the Diversified Dispute Resolution Opinion as a way to implement one of the targets in the 4th Judicial Reform Plan:
46. Complete diversified dispute resolutions mechanisms.Continue to promote mediation, arbitration, administrative rulings, administrative reconsideration or other dispute settlement mechanisms with an organic link to litigation, mutually coordinate and guide parties to choose an appropriate dispute resolution. Promote the establishment of dispute mechanisms that are industry-specific and specialized in the areas of land requisition and property condemnation, environmental protection, labor protection, health care, traffic accidents, property management, insurance and other areas of dispute, dispute resolution professional organizations, promote the improvement of the arbitration systems and administrative ruling systems. Establish an operating system that links people’s mediation, administrative mediation, industry mediation, commercial mediation, and judicial mediation. Promote the legislative process of a diversified dispute settlement mechanism, establish a system for a systematic and scientific diversified dispute settlement system.
The Diversified Dispute Resolution Opinion is a product of the 4th Plenum decision. Its underlying approach was approved by Xi Jinping and other top leaders. Judge Hu, who mentioned at the press conference that at a 2015 meeting, the Leading Small Group on Comprehensive Reform approved a framework policy document (not publicly available) on improving the diversified resolution of disputes (关于完善矛盾纠纷多元化解机制的意见) and the General Offices of the State Council and Central Committee followed with an implementing document. The principal reason that this topic merited top leadership time and involvement is because of its direct links to maintaining social stability and reducing social disputes.
Similar to other SPC policy documents discussed on this blog, comments on the draft were sought from the central authorities, lower courts, relevant State Council ministries and commissions, industry association, arbitration organizations, scholars, and the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. The Diversified Dispute Resolution Opinion was approved by the SPC judicial committee.
The objective of the document is to promote a more sophisticated, efficient, and effective approach to dispute resolution that will reduce social tensions. Part of the objective is to reduce the number of cases filed, heard, and tried by courts. For commercial disputes, it is intended to push disputes to institutions that can more competently, efficiently and timely mediate cases and better mediate cases within the courts by involving court-annexed mediators, before or after the person or entity files suit. The implications of this document for the reform of labor and rural land contract dispute resolution remain to be seen.
The Diversified Dispute Resolution Opinion requires better linkages between other institutions and the courts, so, for example, that mediation agreements can be enforced without a re-hearing in the courts. It stresses Party leadership while emphasizing that forces in society can do a better job of dispute resolution than official ones. The document also cautions against borrowing institutions wholesale from abroad.
Practical implications to expect in the medium to long term
- For the foreign investment community (and their lawyers), a signal that the SPC is working on a judicial interpretation concerning the judicial review of foreign and foreign-related arbitral awards (“standardize judicial review procedures for foreign-related and foreign commercial arbitration awards”) (规范涉外和外国商事仲裁裁决司法审查程序). As this blog has reported earlier, this was signaled at the November 2014 National Conference on Foreign-related Commercial and Maritime Adjudication and last year’s One Belt One Road Opinion. It is unclear whether the future interpretation will change the prior reporting procedure, for example, to give parties a chance to submit arguments orally or in writing, or whether it is intended to consolidate the principles the SPC sets out in its responses to lower courts (released to the public in one of the SPC’s publications), summarized in comprehensive overviews of Chinese arbitration law, such as this one.
- Changes to labor dispute resolution, as highlighted by the 2015 Central Committee/State Council document mentioned earlier. This is important in light of the uncertain economy and increasing number of workers being made redundant. in recent years, judges in different areas of China have published devastating criticism of the current labor arbitration system and labor dispute resolution generally. The judges pointed out the current labor arbitration system is not independent of the government, fails to protect labor interests equally, and . The judges also criticize the brief statute of limitations in labor disputes and lack of a specialized labor tribunal. It appears from reports that Zhejiang Province is taking the lead in providing greater choices and professionalism in labor dispute resolution, but it unclear how far those reforms go.
- Further attention to rural land arbitration.The Diversified Dispute Resolution Opinion mentions better linkages between the courts and rural land arbitration. This area is important, as the government seeks to encourage farmers to expand their landholdings and mortgage their land, but the merits of the system are not the SPC’s issue. A 2014 report highlights the lack of independence of these arbitration commissions, lack of arbitrators, and absence of qualified arbitrators. A 2016 paper by several China Banking Regulatory Commission staff on the mortgage of rural land notes that those arbitration commissions need improving.
- Local courts to establish “court-annexed mediation centers” to encourage and give parties “one stop shopping” for choices in mediating some of the cases most often seen in the courts–family, conflicts between neighbors, consumer, small claims, consumer, traffic accident, medical disputes;
- “Improving” criminal conciliation and mediation procedures. Reforms in this area bear close monitoring because, as discussed in earlier blogposts, criminal conciliation and mediation procedures are often used to avoid embarrassing more powerful institutions (such as schools) and people especially in cases involving claims of rape, sexual assault, and child molestation;
- recognizing the results of and encouraging litigants to use neutral valuation organizations, for civil and commercial disputes such as medical, real estate, construction, intellectual property, and environmental protection, the results of which could be used as the basis of mediation；
- More small claims and expedited procedures for minor civil disputes;
- more lawyers to be appointed as court-appointed mediators；
- Improvements to administrative dispute resolution procedures.
What does all this mean for making people “feel justice in every case” when some persons and institutions enjoy a better quality of dispute resolution than others?