Do China's Internet Courts work entirely online?

Currently China has three Internet Courts: Hangzhou (as of Aug 18, 2017), Beijing (as of Sep 9, 2018) and Guangzhou (as of Sep 28, 2018), respectively. As a legal system’s responses to new demands in new times, these Internet Courts have introduced several innovative facilities, e.g., the judicial blockchain platform and asynchronous trial (see this Kat’s report here), which substantially make the online procedures more approachable, efficient, and cost-effective. 

They will also be the ideal choice for handling certain types of IP disputes, e.g., disputes 1) concerning ownership of copyrights or neighbouring rights in works published for the first time on the internet; 2) arising from infringements of copyrights or neighbouring rights in works published or disseminated online; and 3) concerning domain name ownership, infringements and contracts.

In September 2018, China’s Supreme Court published the Provisions on Several Issues Concerning the Trial of Cases by the Internet Courts (最高人民法院关于互联网法院审理案件若干问题的规定, the Provisions). In Article 1, the Provisions clarify the “online-ness” of the Internet Courts: 
An Internet court shall try cases online, and the acceptance, service, mediation, evidence exchange, pretrial preparation, court trial, judgment pronouncement and other litigation links concerning a case shall generally be completed online. 
According to the application of a party or as needed for the trial of a case, an Internet court may decide to complete part of the litigation links offline. 
"Generally be completed online" sounds nice, isn’t it? But in practice, how "generally" does the Internet Court work online from the user's viewpoint? With curiosity, this Kat put her paws on the Beijing Internet Court as an example, and here come the findings regarding the actual operation process from the user side… 

1. Creating an account 

First, the plaintiff needs to create an account with the Electronic Litigation Platform (the Platform), upload personal information (e.g. ID, address and cellphone number) and set a password. After that, the Platform will send an automatically generated QR code to the given cellphone number. By scanning the QR code, the plaintiff must complete the real-name authentication by using the facial recognition system. Upon successful authentication, an account is officially created. 

2. Filing a case 

After logging in, follow these steps:

- Click on “I want to file a case” 
- Specify the basics of the case including the cause of action, the value of the subject-matter, and the address for service (it is recommended to choose e-delivery which will maximize the efficiency of the whole procedure) 
- Upload or draft online the pleadings (templates provided) 
- Upload the digital evidence 
* At this stage, the plaintiff must decide whether to mediate.

After checking the uploaded information, click on “get the electronic signature code”, so that a QR code will be sent to the given cellphone number. By scanning it, the plaintiff will be redirected to the signature interface, where he/she could complete the filing procedure by e-signing it. 

Then, the judge will examine the submitted information and send the result to the plaintiff by text message. If the case is accepted, the judge will send a code of case to the defendant. The defendant hereupon must log in the Platform and participate in the case by referring to the designated code of case. 

* Pre-trial Mediation 

If the plaintiff chose to mediate (multiple ways of mediations are available, and users could choose from over 70 mediation agents), then  the parties involved will receive a designated code of mediation together with the website of mediation, by which the parties could participate in the online mediation once the digital identity authentications are done. Afterwards, parties could easily check and confirm the digital written records online. 

3. Pretrial preparation 

If the plaintiff chose not to mediate, or the pretrial mediation fails, then the case would go to court. Before the trial, some miscellaneous tasks need to be completed, e.g. paying the litigation fees online, uploading further documents, checking the evidence uploaded by the other party, communicating with the judge, and setting up the court date. The parties are free to track the online updates on real time. 

4. Online trial 

The notices of trial will be sent by text message, and the summons will be served via the Platform. The parties must download the application of the Remote-court in advance and make sure the devices and Internet function well. The whole process of the remote-trial is simultaneously videotaped and audiotaped.
       Court hearing scene of the Beijing Internet Court
5. After trial 

The result of the trail will be delivered by the method chosen by the users. If a party is dissatisfied with the judge’s verdict, they may file an appellate petition online within the appeal period. The application of execution of the valid legal documents could be filed online as well. 

Brief remarks 

Simply put, the Internet Court manages to move the whole trial procedure online, which is pretty cool. In this Kat’s view, the Internet Courts are a good combination of equity and efficiency, and they will likely contribute substantially to the improvement of judicial transparency and trust. Hopefully in the upcoming future, many more user-friendly technologies or policies could be applied in the judicial system in general and benefit larger groups of people, including those who are currently not too tech-savvy. 

Photos courtesy: 
1) "Curious Shelley" by Tian
Do China's Internet Courts work entirely online? Do China's Internet Courts work entirely online? Reviewed by Tian Lu on Wednesday, December 26, 2018 Rating: 5

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