Supreme People’s Court: new regulations on legal representation in death penalty review cases

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complex where death penalty review undertaken

On 29 January, the Supreme People’s Court issued regulations on legal representation in death penalty cases, Measures for Considering the Views of Defense Lawyers in Death Penalty Review Cases (最高人民法院关于办理死刑复核案件听取辩护律师意见的办法) (translation available here).  This blog previously flagged that the Court was drafting them and that they were meant to be issued by the end of the year.  They will become effective on February 1.  They  were accompanied by a brief question and answer session with a “responsible person” from the Court’s #1 Criminal Division. presumably the head or deputy head.  These brief regulations provide important protections to those sentenced to death, and are part of the Court’s efforts to minimize mistaken cases.

The regulations permit defense lawyers to review the defendant’s file, provide additional evidence and have a hearing with the judges handling the case, although not a formal court hearing. The Court has created a room for lawyers to use to review death penalty review materials. The transcript of the hearing (as signed off by the defense lawyer) is to be included in the case file.  However, defense counsel has only two weeks to submit its additional opinion in the case.  Presumably this deadline can be extended if counsel provides justification.

The regulations set out the telephone numbers of the Court’s criminal divisions, which review death penalty cases.  This blogpost translated a chart drafted by the Chinese magazine Southern Weekend setting out jurisdiction of the various divisions.

This is an important step forward in protecting the rights of criminal defendants and is the product of many years of law reform efforts.

 

Supreme People’s Court Focuses on Domestic Violence

Domestic violence victim (photo from SPC website)

Domestic violence victim (photo from SPC website)

The Supreme People’s Court (the Court) devoted its 27 February 2014 press conference to domestic violence, highlighting:

  • the seriousness of the problem;
  • 10 model cases;
  • a forthcoming judicial interpretation on domestic violence.

Judge Xue Shulan, Deputy Head of the #1 Criminal Division, appeared at the press conference.  The Court websites have published a number of domestic violence related articles in the past 3 weeks.  Some of these articles have been reprinted on the website of the Central Communist Party Political Legal Committee, indicating that the Court initiative has political backing.

This blogpost will briefly explain:

  • the significance of the 10 model cases
  • some issues that should be incorporated into the judicial interpretation;

Some statistics about domestic violence in China

At the press conference, Sun Jungong, spokesman for the Supreme People’s Court, released some statistics about domestic violence.  He said that domestic violence occurs in approximately 24.7 percent of Chinese families, and almost 10 percent of intentional homicide cases are connected with domestic violence.

The significance of the 10 model cases

Domestic violence graphic from SPC website

Domestic violence graphic from SPC website

These model cases are intended to convey lessons to the lower courts, lawyers, and the general public on how to consider cases involving domestic violence.

Civil protection orders

China has adopted the concept of a civil protection order (commonly used in other jurisdictions) into its legal system (see an academic study on the issue).  The amended Civil Procedure Law provides a legal basis for the issuance of these orders (see a summary in the linked article).  The Court revealed at the February news conference that over 500 civil protection orders have been issued since 2008.  

One model case involved a civil protection ordered issued to protect  an elderly man against his abusive child while another case involved a civil protection ordered against the uncle of the minor.

The cases convey the message that the scope of persons to be protected under domestic violence civil protection orders should be expanded to include:
  • the elderly;  and
  • minors.
These cases signal an expansion of the categories of individuals for whom orders may be issued and an expansion of the definition of relationship between victim and perpetrator. Academic studies suggest a prevalence of domestic violence against the elderly and minors in China.  Academic studies have found elder abuse occurring in approximately 35% of the populations surveyed and significant prevalence of child abuse.  
Previously, the sole guidance from the Court regarding the issuance of civil protection orders had been limited to issuing them on behalf of one spouse against the other while still married or in the process of seeking a divorce.

Evidence

The Court is providing guidance for judges about what can be considered evidence of domestic violence.  Examples of evidence of domestic violence in these cases include the statement of the victim, in writing, medical records, and the diary of a child and/or victim.In the past judges often did not consider the statement of the victim as evidence.  Reaffirming the evidentiary value of medical records and contemporaneous notes is also important.

Types of domestic violence

In one case, the description of domestic violence was described as excessive use of house rules.  In another example, emotional harm was specifically cited as an injury caused by the violence and a fine was issued.  In another case, use of threats to control the other party was cited.
By selecting these cases, the Court is also conveying a message about the types of behavior that can be considered to be domestic violence. The Court is stressing that domestic violence is not just physical, and that it is a specific dynamic where one individual exercises power and control over the other, including using threats of violence even when there is no physical violence and considerable rule making and other methods to intimidate and emotionally and mentally harm the victim.

Consequences of domestic violence

 In one case the daughter was injured when she tried to protect the mother against her abusive father so the divorce was granted and the mother given custody.  This case conveys the message that a parent who is found to have committed domestic violence against the other parent should not have custody of the child or children who were in that household when the abuse occurred, even if the child was not directly physically targeted or harmed.  This represents a sophisticated understanding of the impact of domestic violence on children and the danger of an abusive parent.

Issues for the judicial interpretation

Judge Xue mentioned at the press conference that a draft interpretation had already been prepared, but was subject to further studies and discussions and it was hoped it would be issued in the second half of 2014.  Issues to be covered by the interpretation include:
  • defining domestic violence;
  • determining whether acts constitute domestic violence;
  • classification of different types of domestic violence;
  • more specific guidelines on criminal punishment for domestic violence;
  • evidence in domestic violence cases;
  • guidelines for imposing punishment on  victims of domestic violence who commit crimes against their abusers.
The drafting of the interpretation was preceded by several years of field studies in 73 basic level courts.  At the press conference, the head of the Court’s Institute for Applied Jurisprudence stated that the definition of domestic violence will incorporate international practice and that the courts will work with other institutions to promote a unified approach to domestic violence.   

Judicial training

After the domestic violence judicial interpretation is issued, widespread judicial training will be needed to ensure that judges can recognize domestic violence and issue civil protection orders to protect women, children, and the elderly.  Many press reports (as well as studies by the Institute of Applied Jurisprudence) indicate that part of the problem can be traced to local courts, police and other authorities, who do not take domestic violence seriously.

This training is especially needed in rural courts, where many abuse cases occur, but also in the military courts.   Article 33 of the Marriage Law provides that the spouse of a soldier in active service who wants a divorce needs to obtain the soldier’s consent, unless the soldier has made “grave errors” (重大过错, which according to a 2001 interpretation of the Marriage Law, includes domestic violence.  This article by a judge from a court outside of Kunming describes some of the issues.

At the latest NPC session, delegates again brought up the delay in progress on domestic violence legislation (described here).  Domestic violence is an area that the scholars, NGOs, and the domestic (and international) public has been putting pressure on the courts to address for some years, and it will be significant progress if the domestic violence interpretation is issued this year.

(The case analysis was provided by a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous)

The Court Misses an Opportunity to Consult the Public on the Demand Guarantee Interpretation

On 6 December the Supreme People’s Court (the Court) issued for a nine day comment period for public consultation their draft “regulations concerning some issues related to the trial of disputes involving independent guarantees” (draft demand guarantee interpretation).   The Court missed an opportunity for real public consultation on a judicial interpretation with significant domestic and international commercial implications.

Why was it a missed opportunity?

In the best of worlds, what could have happened?

  • The Court could have used the draft to showcase the Court’s new openness and transparency (which had begun even before the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party (Third Plenum)).
  • The Court could have set a public consultation period long enough for interested parties (domestic and foreign) to provide meaningful input on the draft.  Interested parties could have had a chance review and consider the draft in light of issues that often arise in transactions when demand guarantees are issued by Chinese institutions, and compare it to the “international  standard” on the subject,the  International Chamber of Commerce’s Uniform Rules for Demand Guarantees (URDG).

The reasons why are the Court did so are explained below.

The demand guarantee regulations are classified as a type of judicial interpretation, which, as explained in a prior blogpost, are an important source of legal rules in China.

Why is the draft demand guarantee interpretation important?   Chinese banks often issue demand guarantees to foreign companies on behalf of Chinese contractors, exporters, and investors. When projects go wrong, Chinese companies often go to Chinese court to try to stop payment on their guarantees.

This blogpost describes:

  • What a demand guarantee is;
  • Why the Court drafted this interpretation;
  • What issues the interpretation raises;
  • How the Court handled public participation and possible reasons for doing so; and
  • Avenues for advocating a greater role for public consultation.
  1. What is a demand guarantee?

A demand guarantee (most often called an independent guarantee in Chinese (独立保函)), is often used in construction, engineering and other projects, when the owner of the project requires a contractor to guarantee his performance, often with a guarantee issued by a bank, so that if the contractor fails to meet his obligations, the project owner can be easily compensated.

2. Why the  Court drafted this interpretation

The Court drafted the demand guarantee interpretation because the lower courts are faced with the situation of trying an increasing number of cases involving demand guarantees, with inadequate legislation.

These cases arise because Chinese construction and engineering companies, taking an increasing share of the contracting market outside of China, seek to avoid paying on the demand guarantee to the foreign project owner.  Large construction or engineering contracts are usually secured by a demand guarantee.  The Chinese construction and engineering companies usually obtain these demand guarantees from Chinese banks. When foreign project owners make demands under the demand guarantees, because the construction project does not meet specified standards, Chinese contractors often apply to the Chinese courts to withhold payment to the foreign project owner.  A recent article by a Dacheng Law Firm partner described his experience acting for a Pakistani project owner.

3.  What issues does the interpretation raise?

The issues below concern banks and project owners, Chinese and foreign:

  • Whether demand guarantees should be applicable to domestic transactions;

The Security Law takes a negative view but see further discussion on this issue here;

  • Whether the court should be able to review the underlying transaction when reviewing demand guarantee disputes;

(Article 27 of the draft states yes, that in relation to fraud (as characterized by Article 18), the court should be able to engage in limited review of the underlying transaction)

  • Governing law of and applicability of Chinese mandatory regulations to demand guarantees; and

(the law agreed by the parties, and if the guarantee is silent, the law of the habitual residence of the guarantor; the mandatory provisions of security given to foreign parties are applicable);

  • Procedures for proceedings to withhold payment under a demand guarantee.

4. How the Court handled public consultation and why

The Court handled the public consultation quickly and quietly.   The possible reasons are described below.  The Court did not publicize the draft on its Weibo or Wechat accounts, nor did the Court’s newspaper, the People’s Court Paper, feature an article calling attention to the draft interpretation.  The nine day public consultation did not violate the Court’s own rules, which do not set out consultation periods or methods of consultation.

Why the brief consultation period?

  • Court officials may have felt that they had solicited enough expertise to issue the draft.

The No. 4 civil division, in charge of foreign-related cases and arbitration, had been working on this judicial interpretation for over two years and had organized several invitation-only conferences in 2012 and 2013 to discuss the draft.  This is standard practice in Chinese legislative drafting (as discussed in a this blogpost) and this article. Participant experts at these conferences included:

    • the Ministry of Commerce;
    • CIETAC;
    • the Beijing Arbitration Commission;
    • leading Chinese lawyers.
    • and likely representatives from the principal Chinese banks and major state-owned companies.
  • Personnel changes slowed the issuance of the interpretation.  During 2013, the Court leadership nominated a new head of the No. 4 civil division, but his appointment was subject to National People’s Congress Standing Committee confirmation, delaying action on this and other matters.
  • There may be a push to issue the interpretation before year-end, so that the lower courts can rely on it to resolve cases, a performance indicator for the lower courts.

5.  Can the Bilateral Investment Treaty Negotiations Push for a More Public Consultation of Judicial Interpretations?

The Chinese government is negotiating Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) separately with the United States and the European Union.  The 2012 U.S. Model Bilateral Investment Treaty contains a framework for including this type of judicial interpretation in BIT transparency obligations.  Those obligations require (to the extent possible) giving interested parties the chance to comment on “proposed regulations of general application of its central level of government.”  The WTO has jurisprudence on what this means.

If the language ultimately agreed between the United States and China is broad enough to encompass judicial interpretations related to investment, this will ultimately trigger an amendment to transparency requirements for judicial interpretations.

Chinese and foreign individuals and businesses would benefit from greater transparency in judicial interpretations.

Communist Party Political-Legal Committees Come out of the Closet and Onto the Web

As everyone who has spent some time paying close attention to the Chinese legal system knows, the Chinese Communist Party has a system (系统) of Political Legal Committees (政法委员会 or 政法委) that oversee, coordinate, and implement Communist Party policy in the legal institutions–public security (and state security), procuratorate,  courts, and justice (公检法司).  The Political-Legal  Committees, that exist at every level of the Communist Party and government, have been existence for many years.  This quick blogpost reports on two unnoticed phenomena:

  • the Political-Legal Committees “coming out”; and
  • the Supreme People’s Court (Court) opening discussion on the relationship among the legal institutions.

What I mean by “Political-Legal Committees ‘coming out'” is that from the central level on down, Political Legal Committees now have their own websites that link to the institutions (with the exception of state security) at the same level of government.  At the top level is Chinapeace, featuring articles related to Party policy (and other topics) in the legal institutions and linking horizontally to the websites of those institutions and vertically (downwards) to the local political legal committees. Chinapeace has links to the websites of local political-legal committees at the provincial level (or equivalent)–such as the Shanghai website.

The Communist Party must have issued a decision to permit these websites to be established.  It means that the Communist Party has decided that the Political Legal Committees need to be on the Internet to promote the Party’s policies. For the veteran observers of the Chinese legal system, it is an amazing phenomenon, when for many years, these committees had been in the metaphorical closet.

The second  unnoticed phenomenon is that at the end of October, the Court has posted on its website a link to the newest topic for discussion for a project it co-sponsors with Qinghua University on judicial reform–the relationship between the legal institutions and whether they should be “adjusted.”

The Constitution (Article 135) sets out the basic principle–they shall “in handling criminal cases, divide their functions, each taking responsibility for its own work, and they shall coordinate their efforts and check each other to ensure the correct and effective enforcement of law” . It is signficant that the Court has raised this, especially publicly.  It is another issue for all concerned about the Chinese legal system to watch.

Dispute Resolution Reforms in the Shanghai FTZ Underway– Updated

Current plans for the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone (Shanghai FTZ) include  reforms to China’s dispute resolution systems, both the courts and commercial arbitration. Court reform developments, in particular, are moving rapidly.

On 5 November, the establishment of a tribunal (自贸区法庭) in the Shanghai FTZ was announced, with Judge Luo Dongchuan, the head of the #4 civil division of the Supreme People’s Court (Court) in attendance, among others.

It follows the announcement by the Court designating the Shanghai courts to be among the first in the country to implement certain judicial reforms.  These reforms are linked to the Supreme People’s Court  2013 Judicial Reform Opinion (discussed in this blogpost).

Professor Ding, Chairman of Legal Affairs Commission, Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress Standing Committee, identified some of the reforms contemplated as well as some of the obstacles to legal reform in the Shanghai FTZ.  in a thoughtful speech given at the opening of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone Court of Arbitration (affiliated with the Shanghai International Arbitration Center).

This post, which updates my earlier blogposts on the subject, looks at two important developments affecting dispute resolution in the Shanghai FTZ:

  • the Court designating the Shanghai courts to take the lead in judicial reforms;
  • Professor Ding highlighting to the Shanghai political and legal leadership that the Shanghai FTZ provides an unprecedented opportunity for Shanghai to build itself into an international arbitration center.

A.             The Courts

The presence of Judge Luo of the Court is a signal that the Shanghai FTZ tribunal is an initiative that the Court backs.   According to a statement of the vice president of the Shanghai Higher People’s Court, the jurisdiction of the tribunal will include civil and commercial cases related to the Shanghai FTZ:

  • investment;
  • trade;
  • finance;
  • intellectual property; and
  • real estate.

According this statement by the President of the Pudong New Area People’s Court, the Shanghai FTZ tribunal will implement the following reforms:

  • case acceptance;
  •  pre-litigation mediation;
  • greater transparency;
  •  use of model cases, and
  • moving more litigation procedure on-line. 201311061401215050.

The decisions of the tribunal will be considered decisions of the Pudong New Area People’s Court and appeals will be made to the #1 Municipal Intermediate People’s Court.

The new reforms for all of Shanghai announced by the Court on 25 October, which build on previous work by  the Shanghai court leadership, include:

  • increasing judicial transparency, including judicial procedure, judicial decisions, and information concerning enforcement;
  • reforming the internal operating rules of the judiciary, so that it operates according to judicial rather than administrative principles;
  • motivating and providing protection to judges to enable them to decide cases fairly;
  •  improving the operating structures of the courts;
  • amending the operating rules for judicial committees;
  • providing a structure for the discussion of cases.

The Shanghai courts have started to take the first steps by issuing regulations to address one of the many issues facing litigants in the Chinese courts, the refusal to take cases (http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2013/11/id/1116965.shtml).  We can expect many more regulations to come.

The reforms highlighted by the Court will be difficult to implement, particularly the reform of internal operating rules of the judiciary, because the PRC judiciary has operated according to those principles throughout its history (as many others inside and out of the Chinese judiciary and mainland China have pointed out (including this author)). Many of these reforms relate, indirectly, to the relationship of the courts and other government institutions, as well as the nature of Communist Party leadership of the courts.

The Court announced that it has established standards and metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the announced reforms. On the basis of those reforms, The Court will gradually roll out those reforms throughout the entire country.

The announcement designating the Shanghai courts as one of the court designated to lead the way in judicial reforms indicates  the importance of Shanghai and the Shanghai FTZ.  The Court has put aside the scandal involving a group of senior judges of the Shanghai Higher People’s Court visiting prostitutes (that led the Supreme People’s Court to issue a statement that the judges had tarred the image of the nation’s judges and scarred judicial credibility (http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90882/8356970.html)).

Designating the Shanghai courts to take the lead in court reform presents a challenge to the Shanghai Higher People’s Court—can they establish a court that will earn the credibility of both domestic and foreign litigants through having competent judges who are able to put into practice ethical standards?  The announcements related to the Shanghai FTZ tribunal indicate that the Shanghai court authorities are selecting well educated judges for the task.

B.             Arbitration

Among the challenges Professor Ding identified in building the Shanghai FTZ into an international arbitration center is challenges to the arbitral institution.  One of those challenges is internationalization.

Challenges to the arbitration institution—possible internationalization?

 In the September interview mentioned above, Lu Hongbing advocated that cooperation between foreign arbitration institutions and Shanghai based ones should be encouraged in the Shanghai FTZ.

Real cooperation involves the following questions (among others!), and a web of legal issues:

  • Should cooperation between foreign and Shanghai based arbitration mean allowing international arbitration institutions to establish offices in the Shanghai FTZ?
  • If that is permitted, should foreign arbitration institutions be permitted to hold arbitrations (seated) in China?
  • Would an arbitral award under those circumstances still be considered to be “international” and enforceable in China under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention) or Arrangement Concerning Mutual Enforcement of Arbitral Awards between the Mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Arrangement with Hong Kong)

Enabling real cooperation between foreign arbitration institutions and Shanghai based ones will require profound analysis of and well-considered solutions to the complex of issues related to the Arbitration Law and Civil Procedure Law raised by the above questions.

An additional outstanding issue that the Court will need to resolve  is the issue of the validity and enforceability of arbitration clauses of the Shanghai Court of International Arbitration (and its predecessor, the CIETAC/Shanghai).  A draft of a judicial opinion resolving the matter is said to be under consideration by the Supreme People’s Court.  That also needs to be resolved if dispute resolution in the Shanghai FTZ (and all of Shanghai) is to serve the needs of disputing parties.

The Court, Professor Ding Wei (and other Shanghai government legal specialists) and the legal advisers for the People’s Government of Pudong District (lead outside counsel is understood to be the Zhong Lun Law Firm) need to work on designing solutions to untangle  the web of interconnected legal issues affecting the internationalization of arbitration.  Given that multiple central government institutions will need to be involved with any solution, it is likely progress on real cooperation with foreign arbitration institutions can only occur over the long term.

C.             Conclusion

The Shanghai FTZ provides the Chinese government an opportunity to experiment with Chinese dispute resolution reforms, both in the courts and arbitration.  The Court is taking steps in Shanghai to address the difficult legal and political issues that must be considered and resolved to make real progress.  Many are “watching this space”, particularly after the establishment of the Shanghai FTZ tribunal.


 

[ii] http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2013/09/id/1080615.shtml

Dispute Resolution Reforms in the Shanghai FTZ Underway

Few are aware that current plans for the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone (Shanghai FTZ) include  reforms to China’s dispute resolution systems, both the courts and commercial arbitration. Court reform developments, in particular, are moving rapidly, because the Supreme People’s Court (the Court) has designated the Shanghai courts to be among the first in the country to implement certain judicial reforms (http://rmfyb.chinacourt.org/paper/html/2013-10/26/content_72024.htm?div=-1#).  These reforms are linked to the Supreme People’s Court  2013 Judicial Reform Opinion (discussed in my 30 October blogpost) and  announced on 29 October.

Reforms in dispute resolution were highlighted by Professor Ding Wei, Chairman of Legal Affairs Commission, Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress Standing Committee (http://www.cietac-sh.org/English/ResourcesDetail.aspx?tid=39&aid=571&zt=3) , in a thoughtful speech given at the opening of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone Court of Arbitration (affiliated with the Shanghai International Arbitration Center) on 22 October.  Professor Ding identified some of the reforms contemplated as well as some of the obstacles to legal reform in the Shanghai FTZ.

This post, which updates my blogpost of 28 October, looks at two important developments affecting dispute resolution in the Shanghai FTZ:

  • the Court designating the Shanghai courts to take the lead in judicial reforms;
  • Professor Ding highlighting to the Shanghai political and legal leadership that the Shanghai FTZ provides an unprecedented opportunity for Shanghai to build itself into an international arbitration center.

A.             The Courts

Professor Ding’s made a statement in his speech that “judicial arrangements (for the FTZ) relate to the organization and authority of matters stipulated by the Organizational Law of the People’s Courts, and local government cannot make changes” makes it clear that substantial court reform in the FTZ is not in the hands of the Shanghai government, but rather the central government.  From its press announcement on 25 October (http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2013/10/id/1113813.shtml), it is clear that the Court sees the opportunity presented by the dynamism of economic developments in Shanghai, including the Shanghai FTZ (although not mentioned).

Although currently there is no Shanghai FTZ court ( Lu Hongbing, vice president of the All China Lawyers Association and founding partner of the Shanghai-based Grandall Law Group,  mentioned in a September article the possibility  that one will be established (http://stock.sohu.com/20130924/n387092295.shtml)), the Court is calling on the Shanghai courts to make reforms that will benefit litigants in the Shanghai FTZ  (as well as the entire Shanghai court system.

The new reforms announced by the Court on 25 October, which build on previous work by  the Shanghai court leadership, include:

  • increasing judicial transparency, including judicial procedure, judicial decisions, and information concerning enforcement;
  • reforming the internal operating rules of the judiciary, so that it operates according to judicial rather than administrative principles;
  • motivating and providing protection to judges to enable them to decide cases fairly;
  •  improving the operating structures of the courts;
  • amending the operating rules for judicial committees;
  • providing a structure for the discussion of cases.

The Shanghai courts have started to take the first steps by issuing regulations to address one of the many issues facing litigants in the Chinese courts, the refusal to take cases (http://www.hshfy.sh.cn/shfy/gweb/xxnr.jsp?pa=aaWQ9MjkyMzQ0JnhoPTEPdcssz)(http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2013/11/id/1116965.shtml).  We can expect many more regulations to come.

The reforms highlighted by the Court will be difficult to implement, particularly the reform of internal operating rules of the judiciary, because the PRC judiciary has operated according to those principles throughout its history (as many others inside and out of the Chinese judiciary and mainland China have pointed out (including this author)). Many of these reforms relate, indirectly, to the relationship of the courts and other government institutions, as well as the nature of Communist Party leadership of the courts.

The Court announced that it has established standards and metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the announced reforms. On the basis of those reforms, The Court will gradually roll out those reforms throughout the entire country.

The announcement designating the Shanghai courts as one of the court designated to lead the way in judicial reforms indicates  the importance of Shanghai and the Shanghai FTZ.  The Court has put aside the scandal involving a group of senior judges of the Shanghai Higher People’s Court visiting prostitutes (that led the Supreme People’s Court to issue a statement that the judges had tarred the image of the nation’s judges and scarred judicial credibility (http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90882/8356970.html)).

Designating the Shanghai courts to take the lead in court reform presents a challenge to the Shanghai Higher People’s Court—can they establish a court that will earn the credibility of both domestic and foreign litigants through having competent judges who are able to put into practice ethical standards?

B.             Arbitration

Among the challenges Professor Ding identified in building the Shanghai FTZ into an international arbitration center is challenges to the arbitral institution.  One of those challenges is internationalization.

Challenges to the arbitration institution—possible internationalization?

 In the September interview mentioned above, Lu Hongbing advocated that cooperation between foreign arbitration institutions and Shanghai based ones should be encouraged in the Shanghai FTZ.

Real cooperation involves the following questions (among others!), and a web of legal issues:

  • Should cooperation between foreign and Shanghai based arbitration mean allowing international arbitration institutions to establish offices in the Shanghai FTZ?
  • If that is permitted, should foreign arbitration institutions be permitted to hold arbitrations (seated) in China?
  • Would an arbitral award under those circumstances still be considered to be “international” and enforceable in China under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention) or Arrangement Concerning Mutual Enforcement of Arbitral Awards between the Mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Arrangement with Hong Kong)

Enabling real cooperation between foreign arbitration institutions and Shanghai based ones will require profound analysis of and well-considered solutions to the complex of issues related to the Arbitration Law and Civil Procedure Law raised by the above questions.

An additional outstanding issue that the Court will need to resolve  is the issue of the validity and enforceability of arbitration clauses of the Shanghai Court of International Arbitration (and its predecessor, the CIETAC/Shanghai).  A draft of a judicial opinion resolving the matter is said to be under consideration by the Supreme People’s Court.  That also needs to be resolved if dispute resolution in the Shanghai FTZ (and all of Shanghai) is to serve the needs of disputing parties.

The Court, Professor Ding Wei (and other Shanghai government legal specialists) and the legal advisers for the People’s Government of Pudong District (lead outside counsel is understood to be the Zhong Lun Law Firm) need to work on designing solutions to untangle  the web of interconnected legal issues affecting the internationalization of arbitration.  Given that multiple central government institutions will need to be involved with any solution, it is likely progress on real cooperation with foreign arbitration institutions can only occur over the long term.

C.             Conclusion

The Shanghai FTZ provides the Chinese government an opportunity to experiment with Chinese dispute resolution reforms, both in the courts and arbitration.  The Court is taking steps in Shanghai to address the difficult legal and political issues that must be considered and resolved to make real progress.  Many are “watching this space”!


[i] My translation: The translation on the website states: the justice arrangement concerning duty allocation among people’s court is an important power under the “PRC People’s Organization Law.” No local organizations are permitted to change it.

[ii] http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2013/09/id/1080615.shtml

The Supreme People’s Court: Interpretations of Law as a form of Official Document (公文)

This post explains why:

  • the Supreme People’s Court (Court) releases normative documents  inconsistent with the law and its own definition of “judicial interpretations;”
  • the Court issues normative documents that guide the judiciary in deciding cases but that are not publicly released;
  • the Court issues normative documents with government organs that are not authorized to issue judicial interpretations.

The explanation is based on recently issued Court regulations.

The practical implications of these phenomena depend on your role.  For those in policy roles, rule of law work, diplomatic or governmental role with the Chinese judiciary, or those otherwise those involved in dispute resolution strategy in China, it is critically important, because it explains why China has a system of non-public normative documents guiding judges in deciding cases. It is not a mode of operation beneficial for domestic or foreign litigants and their counsel.

Official documents—the key concept

The key to understanding how the Court treats interpretations of law is the recently issued Measures for Handling Official Documents of the People’s Courts (Court Official Documents Measures, linked here) (人民法院公文处理办法)。 They replace 1996 regulations on the same subject.

What are the Court Official Documents Measures?

 The Court reissued the Official Documents Measures at the end of 2012  because the Communist Party and State Council General Offices re-issued the Regulations on the Work of Handling Official Documents of the Party and Government (Party and Government Official Documents Measures) (党政机关公文处理工作条例).[2]  The Court Official Documents Measures state that they were drafted with reference to the Party and Government Official Documents Measures and a comparison of both reveals that the Court Official Documents Measures reveal are an iteration of those Official Documents Measures for the court system.

What do the Court Official Documents Measures do?

The Court Official Documents Measures define “court official documents” as “official documents of the people’s courts which are formed in the course of trials and enforcement and judicial administrative operations which have special effect and have a special form.”   (This definition is close to that in the Party and Government Official Documents Measures.) The definition further states:

“court official documents are important tools in transmitting the Party line, direction, and policy, implementing state law, issuing judicial interpretations…”

What are interpretations of law?

As for interpretations of law, the Court Official Documents Measures state:

“litigation documents, judicial interpretations and others are special legal official documents of the people’s courts which should be handled according to relevant provisions of law, regulations and judicial interpretations.”

This means that the Court regards judicial interpretations as “special legal official documents” (特定法律公文) of the courts.

Although the Chinese constitution vests the power to interpret  law with the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, a 1981 decision by that same organization delegated to the Court the authority to interpret law relating to questions involving the specific application of laws and decrees in court trials, while the Supreme People’s Procuratorate was delegated authority to interpret law relating to questions involving the specific application of laws and decrees in procuratorial work.  The Organic Law of the People’s Courts re-iterates the delegation of authority to interpret law to the Court.  Interpretations by both organizations are known as “judicial interpretations.”  In 2007, the Supreme People’s Court issued regulations on judicial interpretations (linked here)  limiting judicial interpretations to the following four types:

  • “interpretation” (解释); (a set of legal rules in a specific area of law, unrelated to a specific case);
  • “provision”(规定)  (often similar to court rules);
  • “reply” (批复)(a reply to a “request for instructions” from a lower court relating to a specific case); and
  • “decision”(决定) (a document abolishing or amending existing judicial interpretations).

Those 2007  regulations also mention judicial interpretations may be jointly issued by the Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and requires that judicial interpretations be made public. These regulations also provide that judges may cite judicial interpretations as the basis for a court decision or ruling.

However, a review of the Gazette of the Supreme People’s Court, the official website of the Court, and lists of superseded judicial interpretations and judicial documents reveals the following phenomena:

  • a category of documents labelled “judicial documents” exists (a term not defined);
  • documents that the Court issues with administrative organs, such as the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Justice are published under that classification and contain normative provisions;
  • documents such as “conference summaries”(纪要) and “opinions” (意见) that are classified as types of official documents are also published under that classification or elsewhere on the Court website, and seem to have normative provisions, because many of which contain language that the lower courts should “implement their provisions” or “use them as guidance.”

Some of these normative documents address new issues or phenomena where the Court is of the view that the law is not settled enough for judicial interpretations.  Other normative documents have a more overtly political purpose and are more closely related to current Party policy.

However, there is no requirement in the Court Official Documents Measures that all Court normative documents be made public, although the Measures designate two forms of official documents as ones that will be released both domestically and internationally, either broadly or for limited circulation.  The Measures refer to the secrecy classification and secrecy level of court official documents and how those should be handled.  Moreover, an Internet search reveals that some Court official documents such as “conference summaries” which were never officially published have made their way into the public domain through unofficial sources such as law firm websites and blogs. (linked here)

What does this mean?

It means that judicial interpretations are considered by the Court to be a type of official document but that the courts often rely on official documents that are not “judicial interpretations” in deciding cases, in addition to the law and existing judicial interpretations, although (according to former judges), it will not be apparent from the face of the judgment or ruling.   However, there is no requirement that these normative documents be made public.

Some of these normative documents may be ones that the Court issues with administrative organs (for example the Ministry of Public Security) (although such documents do not fit the definition of “judicial interpretation”).  The rationale for this practice is that officials of the administrative organ involved will comply only if their administrative organ jointly issues it with the Court and requires compliance of its subordinates.

It means that there is no assurance for any party, domestic or foreign, corporate or individual, that the legal rules on which the court has relied in his case have been made known to him.   It is not an issue in every case, of course, but is more likely in new or sensitive areas.

This is an area for the new Court president to turn his attention, and for foreign and international institutions to encourage the Court to make positive changes to implement regulations requiring the publication of all normative documents.

The Supreme People’s Court and the Interpretation of Law

This post that focuses on the Supreme People’s Court’s (Court) authority to interpret law. My intent is to avoid the quicksand of academic discussion on the topic, which has run for over 20 years in Chinese, English, and other languages and focus instead, on what the Court is doing. This topic also gives me an opportunity to provide a historical perspective, because I examined this topic in detail 20 years ago.
This seemingly theoretical topic is relevant to the work of a broad range of people (among others);
• Lawyers reviewing memoranda from their China-based lawyers;
• Journalists;
• Consular officials stationed in China;
• Regulatory officials who are charged with monitoring exports from China; an
• Foreign and international judicial officials charged with international judicial assistance; and
• Arbitrators in cases involving Chinese law.
These posts will explain (with some historical perspective):
• Why Court interpretations are important;
• Important functions of Court interpretations;
• What they look like;
• The Court’s legal basis for issuing them;
• On-going issues (and suggestions for reform).

Why are they important?
Court interpretations are an important source of legal rules in China, particularly for the courts, and have been for most of the history of the PRC. The number of client alerts by major international law firms is testimony to their importance to the international commercial world, but the Court interprets on many other areas of law of critical importance to ordinary Chinese citizens and the domestic economy. In the last 6 months, Court interpretations in the following areas have achieved international prominence include:
• Labor (employment) law;
• Conflicts of law (private international law);
• Civil trademark disputes and
• Criminal bribery.
Many other interpretations have missed the glare of international scrutiny , although they are significant for the substantive or procedural area involved (as well as the persons affected).
Some important functions of Court interpretations
Among the important functions of Court interpretations are to:
• supply missing definitions;
• supply missing concepts;
• set out missing procedures;
• embody political policy as relevant to the court system;
• refine the discretion of the lower courts; and
• generally fill in the gaping holes or glitches in Chinese legislation.
The Chinese judiciary and legal system would be unable to function without them.
It is an area of Court operation where the Court has changed what it does, for the better, particularly in comparison to 20 years ago. Subsequent posts will also explain what “better” is but also point out some “areas of concern.”

The Supreme People’s Court: Reforming the Chinese courts the Party Way

On April 8, 2013, the Supreme People’s Court announced that its Communist Party (Party) Committee was implementing an  “educational movement to improve judicial work style” (judicial work style movement)  in the second quarter of 2013. Zhou Qiang, the newly appointed president of the Supreme People’s Court, is also the head of its Party Committee.

This clunkily named announcement, written in densely packed Party jargon, is has critical implications for the Chinese court system and all those affected by it, domestic and foreign.  Unpacking the announcement requires a Chinese political jargon decoder and a strong cup of coffee.

This posting will explain why the announcement is so important by highlighting:

  • The meaning of an “educational movement” and “judicial work style.”
  • The impetus for the movement.
  • The goals of the movement.
  • How will it be done?
  • What are its implications?

What is an “educational movement” and  “judicial work style”?

Both phrases are frequently used in Chinese political jargon.

  • An “educational movement”  refers to a political initiative with both educational and punitive aspects, focused on correcting certain ways of thinking while “work style” means the standards of conduct of officials.
  • Work style issues cover a broad range of activity, from deciding cases to womanizing, to luxurious banquets.

Impetus for the movement:

At the 18th Party Congress, the Communist Party leadership identified “judicial credibility” (司法公信力) as a critical area for improvement because of its political implications, particularly the profound loss of confidence in the ability of the Chinese judiciary to provide competent and fair justice.  This was symbolized by the vote  by 20% of National People’s Congress deputies against the Work Report of the Supreme People’s Court.

Goals of the movement:

As announced by the Court’s Party Committee, this education movement has the following goals:

  • Implement the ideal that justice is for the people, so that litigants will not feel they are despised;
  • Decide cases according to law, so that litigants will feel that justice has been done;
  • Improve judicial responsibility, so that judicial laziness, delays, indifference, arbitrariness, failure to hear both sides, and gross errors are avoided.
  • Improve judicial self-discipline and establish a clean judiciary, stop cases decided by money, connections, and sympathies.

Implementing the movement

The Court has called on the lower courts to implement the movement by the following:

  • Study relevant Party and Court documents;
  • Have court leadership take responsibility for implementing the required measures;
  • Implement appropriate internal systems to avoid conflicts of interests, institute training and monitoring programs;
  • Analyze issues in each local court, taking account of the views of various parts of society, identify the weak spots in the judicial system and evolve effective means to deal with them;
  • Use good and bad examples, including instances of judicial irresponsibility and other judicial action that harms judicial prestige;
  • Stop major abuses in the courts, such as taking gifts and money, using court vehicles for private business, using judicial posts to engage in business, and lavish eating and entertainment at public expense.  Violators should be exposed, ordered to change, and if they do not, be dealt with.

What does this educational movement mean?

The implementation of this “educational movement” means that Party leadership recognizes that corruption and abuses in the court system are causing dissatisfaction and resentment among a substantial number of Chinese citizens, including among the political and business elite, and the leadership has called on the new Court leadership to do something about it. The Court leadership recognizes (more than any outside observer) that the Chinese judiciary often delivers a poor quality of justice, but that the issues are different in different parts of the country and even within the same city or province.

What may result from this “educational movement”?

  • Expect a spate of judicial scandals to hit the Chinese media and blogosphere.
  • Behind the scenes there may be a pushback from lower court judges, who feel they cannot make ends meet if they are honest.
  • Expect greater engagement between the Supreme People’s Court and the outside legal world, including greater dialogue between the courts and other parts of the legal profession in China, such as lawyers and academics in evolving reforms.  President Zhou Qiang has led the way by holding a meeting with leading academics and lawyers in late April.
  • Because this educational movement does not deal with the structural issues that have created the conditions under which judicial abuses flourish, expect incremental institutional changes to be gradually rolled out in the next few years.