My brother blogger Mark Cohen’s recent post on comings and goings among intellectual property (IP) attaches attached to embassies and consulates in China has prompted me to think about how comings and goings at the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) are announced and issues related to those comings and goings. As I have mentioned often, the institution of the SPC is stressed in preference to the role or identity of the individual judge. As to how a person can track SPC personnel comings and goings: the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee appoints and removes judges（other than the president of the SPC). Xinhua reports these and they are to be found on the NPC website as well (全国人民代表大会常务委员会任免名单) The SPC reposts the information, found on its website under “important news” (要闻). For appointments (or removals) that do not require NPC Standing Committee approval, the careful observer needs to monitor changes elsewhere on the SPC website: SPC leaders 最高人民法院领导, principal personnel in the SPC’s internal institutions 最高人民法院内设机构主要人员；circuit courts ( 巡回法庭); counterpart listings on the CICC and Supreme People’s Court Intellectual Property Court (SPCIPC).
Among the relatively recent comings and goings: Justice He Rong has replaced Justice Jiang Bixin (born in 1956, who has retired). Justice He had previously been a vice president of the SPC but was transferred to the Shaanxi CCDI/National Security Commission. Going from the courts to Party institutions (and back) is a career path for some judges. As discussed in this earlier blogpost (of almost 5 years ago), SPC judges are bound by official (Party/government official) retirement ages, with special permission possible for high ranking officials, including judges, such as Justice Jiang Bixin. Justice He Rong is in charge of day to day work of the SPC and has the rank of a minister.
In the most recent NPC Standing Committee notice, Judge Zhu Li (well known in the international IP community) and CICC judge, is shown to have been appointed deputy head of the SPCIPC. Senior Judge Jiang Huiling, formerly a vice president (in charge) of the National Judges College , is shown to have left the SPC while Judge Shen Hongyu has been appointed the deputy head of the #4 Civil Division. She was previously a judge on the SPCIPC, after being a judge in the #4 Civil Division for many years. She is taking the position formerly held by Judge Gao Xiaoli. Both Judges Shen and Gao are well known to the international practitioner community because both often speak at international conferences. Judge Shen was a visiting scholar in the fall of 2019 at Columbia Law School and spoke at Columbia, Yale (Paul Tsai China Center), Harvard, and Berkeley, among other law schools. Judge Jiang’s last official activity was to give the commencement address (virtually) at the School of Transnational Law of Peking University (where I teach). The speech seems to have gone viral on (legal) Wechat public accounts.
Knowing where judges have moved requires additional research. A quick check of the “principal personnel” (or Wechat reports) shows that Judge Gao Xiaoli is the new head of the International Cooperation Bureau of the SPC. This bureau was previously entitled “外事局”–“foreign affairs bureau” and was mentioned in my 1993 article. The SPC, similar to other government organs, has a special bureau that handles incoming foreign activities and matters involving judges and court’s activities overseas.
Judge Jiang, who is in his late 50’s, is one of a number of people on the SPC who faced the SPC’s version of the “retirement trap” (analogous to the “middle-income trap”)–with a bureaucratic ranking insufficiently senior to be able to avoid retiring at age 60 or soon thereafter. As I wrote in my 2015 blogpost, judges in many other jurisdictions are considered to be in their prime in their late 50’s and 60’s. US Supreme Court judges have lifetime appointments, while compulsory retirement ages include: Germany–68, Australia, 70, Hong Kong, 65 (with provisos). According to press reports, Jiang Huiling is now a professor at the law school of Tongji University, with some reports stating that he will become dean of its law school. Senior academics have a later retirement age. He will be among the small number of Chinese law school deans that have a practitioner background. We hope he will use his experience to promote the reform of Chinese legal education. As a professor, we would expect him to continue to publish insightful law journal articles and speak more to the academic world.