Supreme People’s Court releases 2016 bankruptcy data

7427ea09324917a26ee719The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued 2016 data on bankruptcy cases on 24 February: 5665 cases were accepted by the Chinese courts while 3602 were closed.  This is up substantially from 2015, when 3568 cases were accepted.  This is an increase of 53.8% over 2015.   Of these, 1041 were bankruptcy reorganization cases, up 85.2% over 2015. As this blog has previously reported,  long delays in filing bankruptcy cases have meant that practically all bankruptcy cases have been liquidation rather than reorganization cases. This is contrast to the downward trend in bankruptcy cases 2005-2014, shown in the graph published on this earlier blogpost. These numbers represent only a tiny proportion of what the Chinese government terms “zombie enterprises,” but it does show that the SPC has been doing its part to serve the nation’s major economic strategies.

What has the SPC done to support this important government strategy highlighted in the 5th Plenum?  In reverse chronological order, a quick list of some of the highlights:

  1. In February, 2017, the SPC issued guidance  to the lower courts on transferring cases that are in debt enforcement proceedings into bankruptcy, so that bankruptcy reorganization has a chance of working. Justice Du had flagged the importance of this a year ago. The Zhejiang Higher People’s Court piloted measures because the courts of that province are piloting bankruptcy reforms. As reported in a December, 2016 blogpost, close to half (40-50%) of the unsatisfied enforcement cases are ones that are wholly unsatisfied, with a goodly portion involving corporate judgment debtors. Judge Du pointed out that unsatisfied judgments because of local protectionism have led to conflicts between creditors and “fierce” conflicts between courts. He called for courts not to engage in “buck passing” on enforcement cases that are transferred to another court for bankruptcy procedures.
  2. In December, 2016, the SPC and lower court judges (as well as Chinese bankruptcy practitioners and scholars) were involved in dialogue with American bankruptcy judges and practitioners on bankruptcy issues, under the framework of US Department of Commerce initiative
  3. On 1 August 216, launched a bankruptcy electronic information platform  (it harmonizes with President Zhou Qiang’s promotion of information technology in the Chinese courts). According to the SPC’s press release, close to 9000 cases are in the database. The platform has assembled relevant documents on some high profile cases, such as Dongbei Special Steel. This platform has received a good market response with 9,760,000 page views as of early February, 2017 (likely to be primarily bankruptcy professionals).
  4. In June, 2016, as this blog has reported earlier, the SPC has required lower courts to establish specialized bankruptcy divisions (4 on the provincial level, 47 intermediate courts, and 22 basic level courts).  One of the aims of the SPC is to create a corps of more competent judges to handle bankruptcy cases. Given the link between the bankruptcy of large state owned enterprises and social stability highlighted by judges writing on this topic previously, serving as a bankruptcy judge in China requires a set of skills unneeded in other jurisdictions.
  5. As more and more companies go into bankruptcy, (as highlighted in this blogpost), more labor litigation can be expected. Senior SPC judges have highlighted that people are increasingly aware of their rights. Those with the means are going to court to try to protect them. The SPC is likely to work on technical issues highlighted in the report such as: how to characterize labor claims in bankruptcy, and whether they should be treated as labor disputes or claims against the bankruptcy estate; whether labor disputes needed to be submitted first to labor arbitration; how the courts can better obtain files from labor arbitration authorities and can ensure labor disputes are addressed and not avoided; and how to ensure that bankrupt enterprises pay social insurance payments for their employees.
  6. Expect to see the SPC focus on bankruptcies (or reorganization) in important areas of the Chinese economy, such as real estate.  This analysis published by a member of the Shanghai Bar Association highlighted some of the complex interests relating to the bankruptcy reorganization of real estate companies : is it practicable;  the workers; the lender, who are often private (shadow) lenders; the individual purchasers. These cases generally involve a string of companies.

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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

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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”?