I am going to experiment with a shorter format, starting with this blogpost.
On 22 July, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) held a news conference with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) to announce their latest policy document providing judicial services and guarantees to accelerate the socialist market system in the New Era (为加快完善社会主义市场经济体制提供司法保障). Justice He Xiaorong appears to be the SPC senior official in charge of the #1 Civil Division. From his appearance at the press conference, Zheng Xuelin, the head of the #1 Civil Division, must have taken the lead in drafting this document, but the subject matter reflects input from many divisions of the SPC, although none of them are mentioned. Wang Renfei, head of the NDRC’s Division of Economic Reform, also appeared at the press conference. It is linked to a May, 2020 document of the Central Committee and State Council on improving the market economy in the New Era.
These policy documents that provide judicial services and guarantees are one of the hallmarks of the SPC in the New Era, as General Secretary Xi Jinping has called on the SPC to provide judicial services and guarantees to the important policy initiatives and strategies of the Party and state. Since Xi Jinping became General Secretary, at the annual Central Political-Legal Work Conference, he has given instructions to the political-legal institutions that the judicial organs provide “judicial services and guarantees” for major Party and government policies. For that reason, the SPC has increased the number of policy documents in which it has provided services and guarantees to the work of the Party and state. Consistent with Xi Jinping’s instructions, Party leadership, in the most recent inspection of the SPC, requested that the SPC strengthen its “services and guarantees” to the work of the Party and state. This latest policy document has 29 articles, covering the topics of:
- judicial protection of market entities, especially small entities;
- judicial protection of property rights;
- establishing a fair, just, and orderly competitive market system;
- a legalized business environment suitable for high-quality economic development;
- judicial protection of people’s livelihood;
- improve foreign-related guarantees; and
- one-stop diversified dispute resolution with Chinese characteristics.
There are a few new provisions, but most of the provisions are a repackaging of current or previous issues, many of which had been mentioned in a recent SPC New Era policy document and discussed on this blog. Some, while not new, send welcome signals. The careful reader can pull out of the bureaucratic language of this document ongoing issues facing the Chinese courts and even some initiatives not previously mentioned. An unscientific selection below follows:
Judicial protection of market entities
This section repeats principles or raises issues such as:
- parties being treated equally; protecting the individual and property rights of entrepreneurs (an ongoing issue–see this 2016 blogpost);
- Absorb and transform beneficial international/foreign experience –this document uses the language “beneficial experience from legal systems with mature market entities” (吸收借鉴国际成熟市场主体法律制度的有益经验). This phrase is repeated elsewhere in the document. As I wrote in 2017–“a careful review of official statements, publications, and actions by the SPC and its affiliated institutions, as well as research by individual SPC judges [and teams of 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.” This continues to be true (given the gaping holes in Chinese legislation, as seen from the perspective of Chinese judges), including a careful review of relevant US law.
- Abuses by senior leaders in SOEs, causing loss of state assets (and likely benefiting private pockets), as seen in this phrase: “further clarify the relationship between state-owned property owners and agents, properly handle cases of loss of state-owned assets due to insider control, related transactions, and illegal guarantees by legal representatives, and pursue directors in accordance with the law. Supervisors and senior managers violate their legal responsibilities and obligations of loyalty and diligence. Promote state-owned enterprises to improve their internal supervision systems and internal control mechanisms, standardize the positioning of powers and responsibilities and exercise methods, and improve the modern corporate system with Chinese characteristics.”
- Improve the protection for small investors (relates to ongoing initiatives by the Shanghai Financial Court) and is connected with the most recent conference summary on bond disputes (全国法院审理债券纠纷案件座谈会纪要). It mentions a forthcoming judicial interpretation on group securities litigation, apparently mentioned for the first time (及时出台证券纠纷代表人诉讼司法解释). The Shanghai Financial Court has issued pilot regulations that will be considered by the SPC.
- Exiting the market, the goal to be applicable to all sorts of legal and natural persons (signaling further developments relating to individual bankruptcy), establishing a better cooperative mechanism with government on bankruptcy (not new).
2. Judicial protection of property rights
Many of these have been discussed on this blog previously:
Better protection for property rights of private enterprises (discussed two years ago at the beginning of the anti-organized crime campaign). It again mentions prevent the abuse of public power to infringe private property rights such as illegally sealing up, seizing, and freezing property rights of private enterprises;
Improving the hearing of cases involving land and real property condemnation (as this blogpost discussed, an underlying problem is the failure of related government departments to comply with legal requirements);
One article (#11) is devoted to improving intellectual property rights protection, but it does not flag anything not previously mentioned.
3. Establishing a competitive market system
Article 12 re-emphasizes a concept basic to a market (oriented) economy–respect for the voluntariness and spirit of contract (尊重合同自愿和契约精神).
One provision in this section has attracted the greatest amount of attention–reducing the allowable interest rate for private lending, signaling a reversal of the provisions in the 2015 interpretation on private lending, which the document states will be amended soon. The other provision that is repeated here (first mentioned three years ago), is stopping SOEs from using their easy access to bank capital to on-lend funds on the private market, for greater profit than their core businesses 规范、遏制国有企业贷款通道业务，引导其回归实体经济).
This section signals that the SPC will be working on more detailed provisions on taking security as a result of the Civil Code (进一步研究细化让与担保的制度规则和裁判标准).
4. legalized business environment suitable for high-quality economic development
Among the provisions mentioned here is better coordination between the financial regulators and the courts (and legal oversight by the courts) (主动加强与金融监管机构的沟通协调，支持、促进金融监管机构依法履职，加强金融风险行政处置与司法审判的衔接，协助做好金融风险预警预防和化解工作).
5. judicial protection of people’s livelihood
This section mentions improving judicial protection for the consumer, better personal data protection, and improving protections for workers in new types of enterprises (i.e., working under algorithms).
6. Foreign-related commercial issues
Two new bits of information in this section are: the mention of exploring the establishment of a judicial review system for international investment arbitration (探索建立健全国际投资仲裁领域的司法审查机制 and issuing guidance on the recognition and enforcement of foreign commercial arbitration awards (适时出台涉外国民商事判决承认与执行的规范指引). This may evidence an expected increase in foreign arbitral awards sought to be enforced in China, in light of the (expected) increased number of Belt and Road Initiative related disputes.
7. One-stop diversified dispute resolution
This section repeats many of the current buzzwords (as discussed in my May blogpost), such as “resolving disputes from the source,” the “Fengqiao Experience,” giving mediation priority, and linking litigation with mediation. However, as mentioned in earlier blogposts, some aspects of better mediation of disputes requires deeper reforms, such as changing incentives or evaluation of SOE executives.