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.