Big data from the Supreme People’s Court

Now that President Zhou Qiang’s report has been well received by National People’s Court delegates, one of the issues to which the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has turned its attention is big data.  Recently, the SPC released a report with “big data.” The charts below are from two versions of that report.  The press release accompanying this report indicated that the SPC will release more data more periodically.The SPC has traditionally been very stingy with the release of data, and certain data that interest persons outside the court system are classified as state secrets. SPC personnel have also discussed their rationale for reviewing and releasing more data, but that will be addressed later.

Because of the large amount of data in the report, it will be reviewed in several blogposts.

Chinese courts hear a huge number of civil cases

The pie chart sets out first instance cases in the courts, both the civilian and military courts.  There were 20% more first instance cases in the courts in 2015 than 2014, almost 11.5 million.  Almost 90% (88.6%) of them were civil/commercial cases, with slightly under 10% criminal cases (9.84%).  Less than 2% of cases were administrative cases.

Ten year trends

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 3.46.15 PM

 

Trends over the last 10 years of cases resolved, by all courts, in units of 10,000.

Criminal cases

The courts accepted 1,126,748 first instance criminal cases, up 8.29%, and concluded 1,099,205 of them,up 7.45%, involving 1,232,695 defendants, up 4.06%。The preponderance of those cases were relatively minor crimes.  
As the pie chart below illustrates, sentences imposing five years and more in prison, death sentences or suspended death sentences were imposed on 115,464, accounting for 9.37% of those convicted. Close to half (43.96%) , or 541,913 were sentenced to prison terms of less than five years, while 45.12% (556,259)were either given suspended sentences or control, or other minor punishments.  A tiny percentage were exempted from criminal punishment (18,020 persons), accounting for 1.46%, while a miniscule number (1039) (0.08%)were declared not guilty.  

The two pie charts below set out out the criminal cases by type, omitting the more sensitive types and showing a drop in most types of crimes, with the exception of fraud and theft/robbery.

Violent crimes

The criminal courts accepted 10,187 cases involving violent crimes, down 5.81%

  1. Intentional assaults: 122,209 cases, down 3.04%;
  2. Rapes: 21, 252 cases, down 9.39%;
  3. Kidnapping: 787%, down 24.54%;
  4. Explosions: 131 cases, down 18.13%

Food, sex, drugs, and gambling crimes

Food and drug safety crimes are always a concern of the government, but enforcement activity or publicity about harsh criminal punishment may have had a positive effect on compliance.  New food and drug safety cases totaled 10,410件 down almost 10%, of which about 3000 involved the production and sale of poisonous or harmful food products, down almost 35%, while there were about 2300 cases of the production and sale of foods that failed safety standards, down about 2%.  The courts accepted less than 250 cases involving the illegal sale of personal information, down about 15%. Food safety issues in China affect people all over the world, as many articles of posted out.

It was clear from last year’s SPC’s guidance on drugs cases, discussed in this earlier blogpost, as well as articles in the press and reports by think tanks, that (illegal) drugs are an increasing problem.  The statistics are an indication of that: drugs cases accepted by the courts have risen 30.79% to 141,999件,Of those, almost 93,000 (92982) cases involved trafficking, sale, transport, and manufacturing of drugs, up 15.61%,illegal possession of drugs, 11104 cases, up 26.9%, providing premises for taking drugs, 36,530 cases, up 101.32%. These, at least the ones involving manufacturing, transport, and sale of drugs are relevant to the world outside of China, as the cheap production of illegal drugs has also moved to China, as articles in the Financial Times (China-made $5 insanity drug goes global) and the European press indicate.

The criminal courts accepted 26423  gambling cases, an increase of almost 32%, including about 19,000 cases of operating gambling premises, up 35%,

The criminal courts accepted 13,700 cases involving the sex trade, an increase of almost 11%, of which 11, 682 cases involved organizing prostitution businesses, providing premises, compelling women to become prostitutes, and acting as a pimp or madam, an increase of 7.4%.  Prostitution offenses themselves are generally punished outside of the courts.

Financial crimes

The pie chart above sets out newly accepted financial crimes:

4825 cases of illegal fundraising,  up 127% over last  year.  This crime is very much on the government agenda.  There were a much smaller number of credit card crimes–844 cases, up by almost 50%, illegal fraudulent fund raising, 1018 cases, up almost 49%, with fraud relating to loans, financial paper, financial instruments, 1284 cases, up 44%, insurance fraud, 422 cases, up 33%, credit card fraud, almost 11,800, up 12%, pyramid scheme cases, almost 1500, up by almost 31%.

The criminal courts accepted about 26,600 robbery cases, down about 16%, theft, 224,907 cases, up 4%, while fraud cases were up 8%.  (offenses subject to confirmation)

SPC’s big data

The other major issue for anyone outside the Chinese court system, Chinese or foreign, reviewing SPC data is that frequently changes in classification and criteria make it difficult to understand and analyze. Or is the thinking that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”?

Fourth Plenum and Chinese military legal reforms

From time to time, I write on Chinese military legal developments, an outgrowth of my interest in one of the few Chinese courts without a internet presence, the military courts.  I recently published an article on the military legal reform document published earlier this year (full text not available), looking at some of the related academic discussions and relating it back to the 4th Plenum Decision and the 4th Five Year Judicial Reform Plan.  I would welcome any comments or corrections any readers might have.

Does money matter when determining which Chinese court will hear your dispute?

imgresFor commercial cases, the amount of dispute does matter in determining which Chinese court will hear your dispute.

On 30 April, the Supreme People’s Court adjusted the jurisdiction of higher and intermediate level courts, both the civilian and military courts in first instance civil/commercial cases in 关于调整高级人民法院和中级人民法院管辖第一审民商事案件标准的通知 (Notice on adjusting jurisdiction for higher and intermediate courts in 1st instance Civil/Commercial cases).  The rules described in the notice, which went into effect on 1 May gave Chinese commercial litigators no advance warning.  They are not applicable to the following types of cases:

  • maritime;
  • foreign, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan related civil cases (there are separate rules on these); and
  • IP cases.

This means that these rules are applicable to cases brought by (or against) foreign invested enterprises (and domestic enterprises), with the above exceptions.  “For the avoidance of doubt,” the notice does not use the term “tier.”

The notice gives a rough idea of the size of business disputes in different parts of China and has special rules to deal with local protectionism, by enabling higher courts to take cases with smaller amounts in dispute if one party is registered outside of the jurisdiction (the Chinese version of diversity jurisdiction in the US federal courts).

First tier jurisdictions

The higher people’s courts of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Guangdong will now have jurisdiction over cases with an amount in dispute of RMB 500 million or more, (300 million if one party is not registered locally) and intermediate courts, if the amount in dispute is at least RMB 100 million (50 million if one party is not registered locally).

Second tier jurisdictions

The higher people’s courts of the following jurisdictions will now have jurisdiction over cases with an amount in dispute of RMB 300 million (100 million if one party is not registered locally), and intermediate courts if the amount in dispute is at least RMB 30 million (20 million if one party is not domiciled locally):

  • Tianjin;
  • Hebei;
  • Shanxi;
  • Inner Mongolia;
  • Liaoning,
  • Anhui,
  • Fujian,
  • Shandong,
  • Henan;
  • Hubei,
  • Hunan;
  • Guangxi;
  • Sichuan;
  • Chongqing.

Third tier jurisdictions

The higher people’s courts of the following jurisdictions will now have jurisdiction over cases with an amount in dispute of RMB 200 million (50 million for non-locally domiciled parties) and intermediate courts will now have jurisdiction over cases with an amount in dispute of RMB 10 million:

  • Jilin;
  • Heilongjiang;
  • Jiangxi;
  • Yunnan;
  • Shaanxi;
  • Xinjiang and the Xinjiang Construction &Production Corp. Court {this latter court deserves a closer look).

Fourth tier jurisdictions

The higher people’s courts of the following jurisdictions will now have jurisdiction over cases with an amount in dispute of RMB 100 million (20 million for a non-locally domiciled party) and intermediate courts will now have jurisdiction over cases with an amount in dispute of RMB 5 million:

  • Guizhou;
  • Tibet;
  • Gansu;
  • Qinghai;
  • Ningxia.

Basic level courts:

Are generally to hear the following types of cases:

  • family law,
  • inheritance,
  • real estate management,
  • personal injury,
  • traffic accident,
  • labor,
  • infringement of right to one’s name and
  • group litigation.

Military courts:

  • The PLA Military Court has jurisdiction over civil cases with an amount in dispute of RMB 100 million or more; and
  • Military region military courts have jurisdiction over civil cases with an amount in dispute of RMB 20 million to 100 million.

Judgments from the military courts are not yet published on the Court’s database.  Earlier this year, (as reported here), a PLA legal academic suggested a change in that policy.

Rules to be applied flexibly

There is some flexibility in the rules for cases considered important, difficult, of a new type, or raising issues of general application, in which a higher court can decide to take the case, or alternatively a lower court can apply to hear such cases.

What does the 4th Plenum mean for military legal reforms (continued)

Criminal Division, PLA Military Court

Criminal Division, PLA Military Court

In early February, I published an article in The Diplomat, focusing on little understood post 4th Plenum developments on Chinese military law, which (to my surprise) was summarized and translated by Chinese official media.  Professor Zhang Jiantian of China University of Political Science and Law recently published an article in People’s Court Daily on issues affecting the military courts, in which gives the outside world a glimpse of the gated Chinese military legal community and sets out his recommended reforms. My article in the Global Military Justice Reform blog summarizes Professor Zhang’s views and recommendations.

Supreme People’s Court’s new policy on protecting the rights of the military and military personnel

Conference on legal assistance to Zhejiang troops

Conference on legal assistance to Zhejiang troops

The details of how the 4th Plenum Decision is being implemented by the Supreme People’s Court are gradually being made known. This blogpost looks at one discrete (and specialized) area, relating to national defense and the military in the civilian courts.

On 31 October, the Supreme People’s Court issued its Opinion on Expanding Capacity in  Safeguarding the Interests of National Defense, Guaranteeing the Rights and Interests of Military Personnel, and Military Dependents (关于进一步发挥职能作用维护国防利益和军人军属合法权益的意见)(The Opinion) (linked here, with comments by a spokesman here).

The sixteen point policy is intended as a comprehensive statement of judicial policy on these issues to be implemented by the lower courts in furtherance of the goals set by the 4th Plenum Decision.

The Opinion draws on some of the documents and addresses some of the social and regulatory issues described in earlier blogposts.

It is intended to implement the following provisions in the 4th Plenum Decision (among others):

  • Safeguard the interests of national defense.
  • Guarantee the lawful rights and interests of soldiers.
  • Strengthen legal services in the area of the people’s livelihood. Perfect legal aid systems, broaden the scope of aid.

Several points from the Opinion are highlighted below,  as well as questions that the Opinion raises (and some of the underlying issues) .

Some Points in the Opinion

1. The Opinion directs the lower courts to improve case filing and jurisdiction in cases related to the military.  The Opinon cites  the three principal judicial interpretations on civil and criminal jurisdiction in military cases, and encourages lower courts to establish special case filing counters for the military.

Why special counters for the military rather than the handicapped, for example, or other disadvantaged groups?

2. The Opinion directs lower courts to provide judicial and legal assistance to military parties.  The Opinion explains that Judicial assistance means exempting or reducing court fees for poor military families in civil cases  known as as “involving the interests of ordinary people” (more about these in an earlier blogpost) such as:

  • support payments (to the elderly);
  • child support;
  • compensation payments (to the disabled or families of the deceased).

The Opinion directs lower courts to take the initiative to assist soldiers and military dependents who qualify in receiving legal aid.  What this means is that courts should reach out to  local justice bureaus.  In some provinces, such as Zhejiang, the provincial judicial bureau has worked with the local military district to establish legal aid centers for military personnel and their dependents, under which local law firms have concluded agreements to provide legal advice (see this report).

How does the provision of legal aid to military personnel and their dependents compare to legal aid provided to other persons in poverty?

3.  Do a better job of trying military cases.  This refers to both criminal and civil cases.

Most of the criminal cases mentioned were detailed in this earlier blogpost.

Among the new principles to be implemented in civil cases are:

  • supporting core military enterprises and military industrial companies. (依法为军队核心产业、军工企业的科学发展提供司法支持).

Government policy seeks to have more private sector involvement in military and military industrial companies.

What does this mean when commercial disputes arise– how will the interests of each party be weighed?

4.  Establish a “green channel” for military related cases (this was mocked earlier this year), by giving priority to military-related cases in docketing, trial and enforcement.  Part of this means directing lower courts to  gather evidence if military parties have difficulty obtaining evidence.

What if it is the non-military party that has that difficulty, either in a commercial or family law case?

5. The Opinion directs the lower courts to work under the united leadership and support of the Party committee and political-legal committee on these issues and to work with other related departments to deal with military related cases.

What does that mean if the approach adopted by the Party committee or political-legal committee favors one party over another?

Other points include:

  • Establishing mechanisms for resolving disputes involving the military.
  • Improving enforcement of military-related orders and decisions.
  • Improving judicial service related to the military
  • Courts should work closely with the military.
  • Explore capturing statistics on military related cases.
  • Incorporating work in military-related cases in judicial performance evaluation.
  • Working with the military courts on military-related cases.

Some of the underlying issues

As identified in earlier blogposts, some of the underlying problems causing an increase in military-related cases in the civilian courts appear to be :

  •  an increase in civil unrest involving civilians and military;
  • unresolved civil disputes involving the military and its personnel
  • criminal cases involving civilians and military that have not been prosecuted because of evidentiary issues.
  • separate operations of the military and civilian justice systems;
  • difficulties in coordinating across bureaucratic systems.
  • performance indicators for officials within the (civilian) legal system, relating to the  percentage of closed cases or other success rates.

The Opinion and the 4th Plenum

What does the Opinion mean for principles in the 4th Plenum such as:

guaranteeing judicial fairness, exercising judicial power independently according law, raising judicial credibility and striving to have the people feel that every judicial case is fair and just?

 

 

 

4th Plenum and What Ruling the Military According to Law means

rule of/by law under construction

The Supreme People’s Court Observer contributed a brief blogpost to the Global Military Justice Reform blog on what the 4th Plenum Decision means for Chinese military law, linked here.The Global Military Justice Reform blog, based at Yale Law School, looks at military justice issues all over the world, including the jurisdiction of military courts, command control of military courts and other parts of the military justice system and is highly recommended!

Does law have a place in China’s military and national defense reform?

Office building of CMC (from Wikipedia)

Office building of CMC (from Wikipedia)

The Supreme People’s Court Observer contributed a post to the Global Military Justice Reform blog, linked here, entitled “Does law have a place in China’s military and national defense reform?” The post commented on two recent articles, one by a researcher at China’s Academy of Military Sciences and the other by the Legislative Affairs Bureau of the Central Military Commission (中央军委法制局).   The blogpost concludes with the prediction of the Supreme People’s Court Observer that when the Chinese leadership meets in October for the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee to focus on the rule of law, some broad principles for military legal reform will be laid down, but notes that this prediction with be (dis)proved by events.

More on lifting the cloak of invisibility over the Chinese military courts

The Supreme People’s Court Observer contributed another post to the Global Military Justice Reform blog. It commented on an article in the July 9, 2014 edition of the South China Morning Post.  The newspaper article quoted several retired PLA officers on the subject of greater transparency for the Chinese military courts, advocating General Xu Caihou (see this earlier post) be tried publicly. The blogpost expressed the view of the Supreme People’s Court Observer that bringing transparency to the Chinese military courts will be a long-term enterprise, and something unlikely to happen in the short term.  The analysis in the post listed several possibly relevant factors.

“The Chinese military legal framework must be improved”

pla.flagThe Supreme People’s Court Observer contributed a post to the Global Military Justice Reform blog.  It looks at the improvements that Chinese military experts see as necessary to improve military law as a part of the government’s plans for reforming and modernizing China’s national defense establishment and People’s Liberation Army.  The post sets out the issues involved.

General Gu and the cloak of secrecy over Chinese military courts

The Supreme People’s Court Observer contributed a post to the Global Military Justice Reform blog (a fascinating new blog that highlights military justice issues worldwide).  The post highlights reasons given by Chinese military law experts for having General Gu’s trial closed to the public and possible reasons that Chinese military courts have a stealth presence on the internet (although more transparent than 20 years ago).

Clearing the Backlog of Civil Disputes in the Chinese Military Courts

Zhou Qiang visiting PLA Military Court, 2013

Zhou Qiang visiting PLA Military Court, 2013


A short notice on the Supreme People’s Court’s websites and Wechat on 2 March (linked here) announced the launch of an 8 month campaign in the military courts to clear out a backlog of major civil disputes.  The announcement (and related information) gives the outside world a peek behind the curtain of the almost 100 military courts.  Any lawyer involved in due diligence projects in China in the last 15 or more years will have encountered issues related to Chinese military law, particularly land issues, but the issues targeted in the campaign are much broader.

This blogpost will look at:

  • the military court system;
  • transparency of the military courts;
  • judicial reforms in the military courts;
  • civil jurisdiction of the military courts; and
  • the clearup campaign.

Military Court System

The Chinese military court system, a system to itself within the Chinese court system, apparently has attracted little attention outside of China (or at least in open sources).  The military court system is headed by the PLA Military Court, which is under the Political Department of the Central Military Commission, and under the Supreme People’s Court.  Below the PLA Military Court there are courts in the military regions as well as the military services–Navy, Air Force, Armed Police and below those courts, basic level courts within each of these regions, military services, and other units  (see this description.

Transparency

Although several articles in the Chinese press suggest that the military courts are more transparent than before, national security concerns apparently mean that the transparency measures being pushed by the Court leadership have not yet extended to the military courts.  For example, the judgment debtor database established in the fall of 2013 includes all the courts but the military ones (although some military-linked companies can be found in the database). The Court’s websites link to websites of the provincial-level local courts, but not that of the military courts. However, internet searches (as well as searches of legal databases) will turn up many reports of cases involving both the civilian and military court systems.

Judicial reforms in the military courts

The Third Plenum Decision called for improvement in military legislation, and it is understood to include judicial reforms in the military courts.  The head of the PLA Military Court stated that judicial reforms included improving the quality of military justice, including the quality of cases handled. What that involves has not been revealed in the open press, although presumably these are issues for the leadership of the PLA military court.  It is likely that increased training of military judicial personnel will be part of the solution,both within the military system and outside it.

Civil jurisdiction of the military courts

Civil, rather than criminal cases, are the focus of the clear up campaign.  The military courts have heard over 2500 civil cases, most of which have been settled.  The Chinese military courts have civil jurisdiction, most recently under a judicial interpretation in the form of regulations issued by the Supreme People’s Court in 2012, “Provisions on Several Issues Concerning the Jurisdiction of Military Courts in Civil Cases” (Civil Cases Jurisdiction Provisions, linked here) and a previous 2010 notice.  The rationale for giving military courts civil jurisdiction is to enable certain types of civil disputes to be resolved more effective, because the local court have encountered difficulties in dealing with them.  Difficulties cited range from serving military personnel or military entities, freezing military assets, obtaining evidence held by military entities, having military personnel attend hearings in the civilian courts, and enforcing judgments against military entities.

The Civil Cases Jurisdiction Provisions deserve more discussion than this quick blogpost can provide, and stipulate:

  • certain civil cases must be exclusively heard in the military courts (including cases in which both parties are military personnel or military entities):
  • parties have the choice whether or not to file a civil suit in the military courts under certain circumstances:
  1. tort cases in which military personnel or entities are tortfeasors;
  2. family disputes in which one party is in the military;
  3. tort cases that occurred within a military facility; or
  4. military real property disputes with a military individual or entity as party.
  • civil cases can be transferred to and from the military and local courts, respectively.

    Head of Lanzhou Military District Court visiting local intermediate court

    Head of Lanzhou Military District Court visiting local intermediate court

The PLA Military Court has issued regulations further specifying the jurisdiction of various levels of military courts, that have been summarized in the press but not made public.

The clear up campaign

The campaign, undertaken with the concurrence of the Political Department of the  Central Military Commission, focuses on the following types of cases:

  • construction of military installations;
  • ownership of military land;
  • defense technology (and presumably other intellectual property-related cases);
  • family law cases involving military personnel;
  • torts;
  • condemnation of property; and
  • labor.

Although reports have not given further details on specific cases, the following is generally known or presumed:

  • In many cities, PLA entities hold real estate in prime areas and the ownership disputes may involve significant sums of money;
  • it is likely that military families have not escaped greater social trends of increased rates of divorce, particularly in the major cities, and some of those divorces are likely to involve disputes over valuable real property;
  • there are likely are disputes over the intellectual property rights held by military personnel and military entities (one reported case involved infringement of copyright (by civilian publishers) of writings by military personnel);
  • military entities have contract disputes involving construction of military installation as well as military goods and services procured.

Greater engagement with the outside world?

It is unclear whether military exchanges with foreign armed forces have included the military courts, or whether the PLA Military Court (or the Central Military Commission) would welcome further engagement with the outside world.  Presumably efforts aimed at increasing the role of law within the military and strengthening the military courts would benefit all.