What to Expect in the Fifth Round of Judicial Reforms

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On July 24, the Chinese authorities held the first post-19th Party Congress national conference  on judicial reform in Shenzhen, entitled “Promoting Comprehensive Deepening of Judicial Reform.”  Holding the conference in Shenzhen is significant, because it is considered synonymous with reform and openness. The leaders on the podium in the photo above (members of the Leading Small Group on Judicial Reform) (all men), include:

  1. Secretary of the Central Political Legal Committee, Guo Shengkun (Guo);
  2. President of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), Zhou Qiang;
  3. Chief Procurator General Zhang Jun;
  4. Central Military Commission Political Legal Committee Party Secretary;
  5. Minister of Public Security;
  6. Minister of State Security;
  7. Commander of the People’s Armed Police.

Attendees of the conference included the Party Secretaries of the Political Legal Committees of all provinces/autonomous regions/cities, and likely senior leaders from all of the systems.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised that comprehensive deepening of judicial reform was the subject of the conference as a December, 2017, blogpost flagged that the new phraseology is “deepen the reform of the judicial system with comprehensive integrated reforms” (深化司法体制改革综合配套改革) (and there is a significant overlap with some of the issues Judge Jiang mentioned). The language is found deep in Xi Jinping’s 19th Communist Party Congress Report.

The quick (and incomplete) summary below is of some of the court-related issues from the report of Guo’s speech at the conference that He Fan (head of the planning section of the SPC’s judicial reform office) posted on his Wechat public account.  He was one of the many attendees.   None of the analysis below (in italics) should be attributed to him.

It can be expected that the court-related issues will be incorporated into the next judicial reform plan outline. What is on the court-related reform list?  What issues remain unresolved?

  1. Strengthen and optimize Communist Party leadership, Scientifically position the responsibilities and boundaries of the Party Committee, Political and Legal Committee, strengthen functions such as overall coordination, planning and deployment, supervision and implementation.   This of course listed first.What does this mean in practice for judicial system and particularly the operation of the criminal justice system, such as the ongoing campaign against organized crime (see this earlier blogpost)? 
  2.  Clarify the functions of the four-level courts,–improve the SPC circuit courts’ working mechanism; establish the Shanghai Financial Court, steadily expand the Internet Court pilots; explore the deepening of the reform of cross-administrative district courts and procuratorates, and explore the establishment of a national-level intellectual property appeal hearing mechanism.

Developments have occurred on some of these. The Shanghai Circuit Court will start operations soon, with regulations on its jurisdiction just issued and well-regarded judges appointed to senior positions.  The mention of an intellectual property appeals court is significant, as that has been mentioned in earlier government documents and it is on the wish list of the intellectual property law community.  The cross-administrative district courts are mentioned in the previous court reform plan, with some pilot projects. On SPC’s circuit courts are taking on a greater percentage of the SPC’s cases, (as mentioned earlier on this blog) SPC judges work in the circuit courts while their families remain in Beijing, so at some personal cost to judges involved.

3.  Improve institutional management, promote a combination of flat management and professionalization, adhere to the simultaneous transformation of comprehensive and operational entities, and promote the return of judicial personnel to the front line.  As this blog has repeatedly mentioned (and He Xin/Kwai Hang Ng have detailed in their new book, Embedded Courts), Chinese courts (as courts and political/legal institutions) have large “comprehensive offices” (engaging in functions not directly related to judicial work).  A recent study of several courts in Zhejiang province published in an academic journal affiliated with the China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence detailed the percentages. With the reduction in the number of judges and the explosion in the number of cases, there is a great amount of pressure to allocate more judges to the “front line” of handling cases.  Judges with some measure of seniority inevitably have both administrative and judicial responsibilities.

4.  Improve the supervision management mechanism of the president and division chiefs, and standardize the functions of the judicial committee, the committee of court leaders, which has a number of functions, often serving to diffuse responsibility for difficult cases  (Embedded Courts has more insights on this, and this blog has an earlier post on proposed reforms and related problems). Improve the professional judges meeting (mentioned in last year’s SPC regulations, I hope to have something more to say on this in a later blogpost). Improve the disciplinary mechanism of judges. (It would be an improvement to have greater transparency on the results.) Accelerate the construction of an electronic file with the simultaneous generation of the case and the entire process online case handling system.  This has been an ongoing proposal.  Shenzhen is taking the lead with this. Also it would be an improvement to have greater transparency on cases filed.

6. On judicial “standardization” –improve reference to similar cases, case guidelines, the guiding case mechanisms, implement mandatory search system for similar cases and related cases. We will carry out an in-depth national judicial standardization inspections.  This is sending two signals–greater implementation of China’s case law system (as I have written about earlier), and the continued use of government/Party inspection campaigns (reflecting the administrative aspects of the Chinese courts).

7. Improve the  performance appraisal system. Scientifically set the performance appraisal indicator system for handling cases, and guide judicial personnel to handle more cases, handle cases quickly, and handle cases well. Use big data technology to accurately measure the quality of the case and strive for convincing results. The assessment results are used as an important basis for the level of salary, job promotion…This is an important and unresolved issue for the Chinese courts–how to appraise judges.  Outside of China, many scholars have written about this, including Carl Minzner, William Hurst & Jonathan Kinkel. A good deal of research has been done within the Chinese court system concerning this (see this summary of a report published earlier this year by a team of Guangdong Higher People’s Court judges–discussing how the “civil servant/administrative model” predominates and suggesting that China should be looking to other jurisdictions for models, as judicial evaluation is a worldwide issue.  Case closing percentages continues to be very important for Chinese judges.  Is big data technology the answer?  Is this consistent with encouraging judges to write more reasoned decisions?  This appears to signal  a continuation of the judge as factory worker system described in this blogpost

8. In the area of criminal law, and criminal procedure, there are mixed developments.  On the one hand, greater encouragement for using the plea bargaining with Chinese characteristics (please see Jeremy Daum’s deep dive into the pilots). The merging of the arrest and prosecution stages is also mentioned.  Guo also mentioned  measures to enable appointing defense counsel in death penalty cases, having full coverage of defense counsel in criminal cases (Jeremy Daum has comments also on the system of stationing lawyers in detention houses), requiring lawyers to represent petitioners in criminal collateral appeals cases, as well as greater use of live witnesses at trial。  The National Judges College academic journal Journal of Law Application just published an article by a Beijing Higher Court judge, reviewing the duty lawyer scheme, with analogous findings to Jeremy’s.

9.  For those interested in how the supervision commission is/will affect criminal cases, Guo mentions establishing a system for linking the supervision’s investigatory system with the criminal procedure system (said to improve the battle against corruption, the question is the extent to which individual rights are protected).

10.  On foreign related matters, Guo mentions innovating foreign-related work, and improving cooperation on international enforcement and judicial cooperation.  These continue to be difficult issues, with no likely resolution in sight, particularly criminal and also civil.  As I have mentioned before China is participating in the drafting of the Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgment, but there are major inconsistencies between the provisions of the draft convention, and the Choice of Court Convention which China signed last September.

Guo highlights improving an initial appointment system for judges and procurators, expanding open recruitment so that talented people will be attract to becoming and remain judges.  He calls for better coordination between the law schools and professional training, systems for provincial level appointment of judges (and procurators), with better policies on temporary appointment (挂职) (a system used for academics to work in the system for a period of one or two years, and judges/procurators from higher levels to work at the basic level or in a poorer area), exchanges, promotions, and resignation.

In his recommendations, Guo tips his hat to judicial (and procurator) dissatisfaction with status and pay with his statement “uphold resolving a combination of ideological and practical issues, motivate cadres and police to the greatest extent possible.” 坚持解决思想问题和解决实际问题相结合,最大限度调动政法干警积极性”-as this blog has reported, a combination of those issues, excessive work, and significant amounts of time allocated to “studying documents” has led younger experienced judges (and procurators) to decide to resign.

 

 

 

First quarter 2015 bankruptcy cases in the Chinese courts

Continuing my series on bankruptcy law, this blogpost gives a quick report on 2015 first quarter bankruptcy cases in the Chinese courts, drawn from this report (including the charts used).

Bankruptcy cases accepted, by province

Bankruptcy cases accepted, by province

During that period, the Chinese courts accepted 264 bankruptcy cases.  Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Guangdong had the top number of cases, followed by Shanxi, Anhui, and Hunan.  The top bar is cases is the rest of the country. d5015987-bb7f-4ee4-812a-e711a3264557

The piechart sets out the percentage distribution of cases by province (the largest percentage is from the rest of the country).

A listing of the courts that have accepted the most bankruptcy cases bears out earlier analysis on this blog about the Shenzhen courts (Shenzhen is the court that has accepted the most bankruptcy cases in the country, with Zhangjiagang (Jiangsu Province) in second place.

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As for the types of cases, the piechart below shows that most cases (about 2/3s) were bankruptcy liquidation cases, followed by reorganization (about 1/3), with very few settlement cases.  This article explains the three different types of cases.

d5015987-bb7f-4ee4-812a-e711a3264557On the geographical distribution of the liquidation cases.the piechat above shows that most arose in Jiangsu Province (about 23%), with Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shanxi, and Anhui Provinces following in descending order.  The 40% is from the rest of the country. Several cases involve multi-tiered, overlapping layers of complex entities (as elsewhere in the world), leading Chinese courts to consolidate the bankruptcy cases of several related companies (this Harvard Law School article gives a US bankruptcy perspective on consolidation).3be5b38d-70a0-4ebd-bdae-3472f9de09ae

On the geographical distribution of the reorganization cases, the piechart above shows that greatest proportion of reorganization cases were in Zhejiang (25%) (the site of at least one pilot court for bankruptcy cases), followed by Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong/Shanxi) (the 30% is for the rest of the country).

As mentioned previously, the Supreme People’s Court expects to see an upturn in bankruptcy cases, and I would expect to see initiatives in transferring cases from enforcement to bankruptcy (an outstanding issue for the courts) and proposed solutions to achieve more reorganization and settlement cases. These are likely to happen because (as mentioned previously) the Chinese government has committed to reducing the number of zombie enterprises.  Early this spring, a conference will be held in China on the trial of bankruptcy cases, where these issues are likely to be discussed. If the organizers (and funding) permit, I will attend.

 

Shenzhen leads the way in bankruptcy law reforms

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Shenzhen’s bankruptcy information platform

This very brief blogpost is reporting on bankruptcy law developments in Shenzhen.  The Shenzhen courts are often used as a venue for piloting reforms, and bankruptcy law is no different.  It is likely that the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) is aware of this.

The Shenzhen Intermediate Court held a press conference on 21 January  to announce that they had established a bankruptcy information platform (linked here) with information case guidance, filing guidance, guidance on procedures, bankruptcy case announcements, bankruptcy judgements, etc.  The Shenzhen court also released some recent statistics on their caseload.  In 2015, the Shenzhen intermediate court accepted 131 cases, up 105% from the year before, tried 283 cases, and resolved 82 cases (up 26% from the year before). On the timing for cases to be resolved, as mentioned in a previous blogpost, bankruptcy cases tend to take a long time to be closed in the Chinese courts.

The bankruptcy platform is likely to be a model for other courts around China and fits nicely with the other “informatization” initiatives of the SPC.  Having a single platform should make it easier for bankruptcy practitioners (as well as buyers of distressed assets).  For those of outside of the Chinese court system seeking to understand what is happening, it will provide more information for us to consider.
The cases in Shenzhen accounted for 40% of the total bankruptcy caseload in Guangdong.  Although national statistics for bankruptcy cases in 2015 have not yet been released, when compared with 2014 (and presuming China had more cases bankruptcy in 2015), Shenzhen accounts for a significant proportion of bankruptcy cases. That is likely not a sign of weaker companies in Shenzhen, but that the Shenzhen government is more willing to see companies go through bankruptcy procedure.

 

The Supreme People’s Court on domestic violence legislation

copyright Shenzhen

(originally published here)

In its 29 August Wechat feed (which reproduced an article  published in the People’s Court Newspaper), the Court issued an update on domestic violence legislation, focusing on Shenzhen’s draft Anti-Domestic Violence Regulations (Domestic Violence Regulations).  The Domestic Violence Regulations have been incorporated into Shenzhen’s legislation plan and is intended to be adopted by year’s end.

The update highlights a conference earlier in August in Shenzhen that attracted over 160 experts from all over China to discuss an initial draft of the legislation.  Mark Obama also spoke at the conference.

It is likely that members of the group responsible for drafting the Court’s judicial interpretation on domestic violence participated in the conference.  As is often the case (and was noted in the update), Shenzhen is taking the lead in issuing promulgating legislation, serving as a pilot project for national legislation. Twenty nine localities have adopted domestic violence-related policies or local legislation.

Shenzhen domestic violence conference

Shenzhen domestic violence conference

This brief blogpost will highlight the following issues raised by the report:

  • Disturbing domestic violence statistics;
  • Details on the draft legislation; and
  • Status of the Court’s domestic violence judicial interpretation.

Domestic violence statistics

The above article and other articles reporting on the Shenzhen conference have provided disturbing statistics on domestic violence.

  • Domestic violence occurs in about 25% of Chinese families;
  • About 10% of juvenile offenders were raised in abusive families (statistics on this issue seem to vary widely);
  • 30% of victims of domestic violence in China (women, children, and elderly) are afraid to speak out against their abusers;
  • The Shenzhen Women’s Federation provided statistics on local (Shenzhen) domestic violence:
    • it occurs in 55 percent of Shenzhen homes among people aged 28-50;
    • 85.8 percent of violent incidents occur between married couples;
    •  93.9 percent of these are cases of husbands being violent towards their wives.
  • A examination of 300 cases reviewed by the NGO Beijing Children’s Legal Aid & Research Center revealed that:
    • 65% of children had been subject to corporal punishment;
    • of 32 cases of child sex abuse, 75% were committed by guardians, with about half committed by fathers.

 Draft legislation issues

Reports on the draft Shenzhen legislation have highlighted the following issues among others:

  • Scope of the persons protected by the legislation–whether persons living together, intimate partners, former spouses or partners should be covered–the initial draft of the Shenzhen Women’s Federation excluded these relationships.  Xu Ruishan, of the Shenzhen Municipal Procuratorate recommended that the legislation protect persons living together and former spouses from domestic violence, because of the prevalence of couples living together without marriage, while Professor Tao Lin, Secretary General of the Shenzhen Family Planning Association, recommended protecting intimate partners, because of the frequent violence in those relationships.
  • The type of domestic violence to be covered by the legislation, whether it should include economic, emotional, and sexual violence, as well as physical.

Status of the domestic violence judicial interpretation

Although the status of the Court’s judicial interpretation (discussed in an earlier blogpost) was not specifically addressed, in the article, Zhou Feng, the head of the #1 Criminal Division of the Court revealed his views that:

  • domestic violence offenses should be able to be either publicly or privately prosecuted;
  • a mandatory and voluntary reporting system should be instituted for entities and individuals who become aware of domestic violence (this is generally seen in domestic violence legislation internationally).

It may be that the timing of the issuance of the domestic violence judicial interpretation is related to the timing of the promulgation of national domestic violence legislation, but Court spokesmen have not been forthcoming on this issue.

Further details on the Shenzhen draft legislation

If anyone reading this blogpost has a copy of the draft Shenzhen legislation, attended the Shenzhen conference, or has further information on the status of the domestic violence judicial interpretation and is willing to share details about them, please use the comment function. Thank you!

And finally, the Supreme People’s Court Monitor thanks followers for their patience during the blog’s downtime. Future posts will address some of the many recent developments.

Domestic Violence cases in the courts: an update from Shenzhen’s Luohu District Court

Protect yourself from domestic violence with a civil protection order
Protect yourself from domestic violence with a civil protection order

Luohu District Court

The Luohu District Court (the Luohu court), which hears cases arising from the primarily urban Luohu administrative district  in Shenzhen, in late March posted on its website (and Wechat account) an overview of  the 24 domestic violence cases that it has heard in the last 3 years.  The court identified four trends and “take-aways”:

  • there has been a trend towards an increase in the average age of abusers, from 31-45, to over 60;
  • the educational level and professional background of abusers has shifted to university educated, working in government agencies or foreign invested enterprises;
  • the type of domestic violence has shifted from simple physical violence to emotional and economic abuse, creating more evidentiary difficulties and analytical issues for the courts; and
  • the victims have become more aware of their legal rights.  Victims are moving away from traditional attitudes of accepting domestic violence as part of family life to using the law to protect themselves, and are calling the police when domestic violence occurs and applying for civil protection orders.

The Luohu court saw the following take-aways:

  • more psychological support should be provided locally, in residential areas, to prevent domestic violence from occurring;
  • local institutions for resolving domestic disputes should be strengthened; and
  • more should be done to make the public aware of domestic violence legislation.

This report from one district court reflects many of the messages about domestic violence being conveyed by the Supreme People’s Court.  Further reports on the drafting of the domestic violence interpretation are awaited, to see whether it will involve the procuratorate, public security, and other authorities.