SPC reveals new Belt & Road-related initiatives

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Judge Liu Guixiang (SPC judicial committee member & head of #1 Circuit Court) speaking at conference

In late September (2017), the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) held a Belt & Road judicial conference with senior judges from 16 jurisdictions in the desert oasis of Dunhuang, famed for its Buddhist caves.  As is its custom at its international conferences, the SPC released some information concerning previously unknown cross-border related initiatives, both of which have implications for the international business and legal communities.  The English language reports of the conference (in China Daily and related media outlets)  missed the implications.  A brief article in one of the SPC’s Wechat accounts reveals that:

  • SPC is drafting a judicial interpretation on the recognition and enforcement of foreign civil & commercial judgments (关于承认和执行外国法院民商事判决若干问题的规定);
  • SPC is considering establishing a Belt & Road International Commercial Court (literally “Tribunal”) (“一带一路”国际商事法庭). (chief of the SPC’s #4 Civil Division, Judge Zhang Yongjian, must have been speaking of this when he was interviewed during the 2017 National People’s Congress meeting).

Enforcing foreign civil judgments

A recent decision by a Wuhan court to enforce a California default judgment has received worldwide attention, both professional and academic. with some noting nothing had really changed and Professor Donald Clarke correctly wondering whether an instruction had come from on high.  With this news from Judge Liu, it is clear that the Wuhan decision is part of the Chinese courts’ rethink of its approach to recognizing and enforcing foreign court judgments.

Judge Liu revealed that the judicial interpretation will set out details regarding the meaning of “reciprocity” and standards for applying it (明确互惠原则具体适用的标准).  In another recent article, an SPC judge considered the matter of reciprocity in more detail.  Among the issues she mentioned were: 1) China not being a party to the Hague Convention on the Choice of Courts (this obstacle has been removed as China signed the Convention on 12 September 2017 (this article has a good overview); 2) China should actively participate in the drafting of the Hague Convention on the Recognition & Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (this seems to be happening, as this blog has reported).  The SPC judge recognized that the current Chinese position has significant limitations and can lead to a great deal of parallel litigation (see Professor Vivienne Bath‘s scholarship on this).  The SPC judge also suggested that the standards set out in mutual judicial assistance agreements could be useful in drafting standards for reviewing the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.

Belt & Road Commercial Court

Judge Liu also mentioned that the SPC would establish a Belt & Road dispute resolution mechanism and that the SPC was considering a Belt & Road commercial tribunal, to provide the parties of OBOR countries with fair, efficient, and low-cost one-stop legal services.  It is clear from discrete developments that the SPC is looking to Singapore’s International Commercial Court and the Dubai’s International Finance Centre Courts (DIFC).  One of those discrete developments is the cooperation agreement that the Shanghai Higher People’s Court and Dubai International Finance Centre Court signed in October 2016 (reported here), which must have required the concurrence of the SPC. The other discrete development is the memorandum of understanding on legal and judicial cooperation between the SPC and Singapore Supreme Court, signed in August 2017, relating to mutual recognition and enforcement of monetary judgments, judicial training for judges, and the Belt & Road initiative.

The details of the SPC’s  Belt & Road commercial court (tribunal) are yet unclear.  Both the DIFC and Singapore International Commercial Court have a panel of international judges, but a similar institution in China would be inconsistent with Chinese legislation.  The SPC is clearly interested in promoting mediation to resolve Belt & Road disputes. This interest is visible from the September 2017 International Mediation conference in Hangzhou, at which Judge Long Fei, director of one of the sections in the SPC’s Judicial Reform Office, spoke on the benefits of international commercial mediation.

Perhaps the SPC envisions an institution analogous to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and plans to cooperate more on resolving Belt & Road commercial disputes with UNCITRAL and other international organizations.  We will need to see how this further develops.

It is also unclear whether the SPC will issue a draft judicial interpretation or draft regulations on the Belt & Road dispute resolution center for public comment.  Although President Zhou Qiang and Executive Vice President Shen Deyong speak of the benefits of judicial transparency, it seems the benefits of public participation in judicial interpretation drafting /rule-making have yet to be fully realized.

 

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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 one of #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