As the days count down to the 19th Party Congress, all Party/government institutions are preparing for it, including the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). On 19 September, the SPC issued an emergency notice (pictured above), calling on the lower courts to strengthening law enforcement work to provide a good judicial environment for the holding of the 19th Party Congress. The SPC, as other Party/government institutions, issue emergency notices from time to time (here’s one from the Ministry of Education), generally linked to a politically significant event. The full text for the SPC notice hasn’t been released (or if it has, it has escaped me). It is meant to send signals to the SPC staff and to the lower courts.
Some of the signals:
- improve performance indicator systems (indicating too many courts still have dysfunctional performance indicators);
- handle more cases, handle them well, handle them quickly (多办案、办好案、快办案, language better suited to the factory floor);
- ensure that the goal of having difficulties in enforcement basically resolved in three years is achieved (again….);
- clear up those unresolved cases (要抓好长期未结案件清理,确保依法妥善清理案件)–this is being taken seriously by court leaders, again judges (and their clerks, assistants and interns). The PhDs (and Master’s degree holders) praised by the SPC may feel they are somewhere between a model production worker and a real judge (or clerk.). (Of the SPC quota judges, about 1/3 have PhDs, with over half holding a master’s degree), and PhDs are not unusual in the lower courts, at least in major cities.) An unscientific survey shows judges and their support staff doing more overtime during the pre-19th Party Congress and pre-Golden Week holiday to meet this target;
- reminds the lower courts about the case registration reform and reminds judges that cases should be accepted, even towards year end, when courts are concerned about their case closing numbers, especially the number of cases that will be carried over to the next year, and warns them against reporting false closing statistics (坚决杜绝人为抬高立案门槛、拖延立案、年底前提前关门不收案等突出问题), （切实防止虚假报结、强迫撤诉);
- reminds courts about another important but controversial judicial reform, implementing the judicial responsibility system (insightful analysis and research from within the courts on this is coming out, see this recent article in the National Judicial College’s journal);
- it reminds judges of ways to deal with the increase and cases and reduction in headcount–use diversified dispute resolution, separate simple from complicated cases, and try similar cases together.
The SPC released some year to date (end August) statistics (I’m drilling down on the state of transparency in this area)–close to 16 million newly accepted cases (15.89 million), no breakdown on how cases are categorized, closed cases up to 12.67 million (up 15.7%). This indicates continued high pressure on first instance judges and their assistants. I’m awaiting data on what the vortex of reforms means for retaining high quality judges.