Supreme People’s Court of China releases white paper on Chinese courts and the Internet judiciary

On 4 December 2019, the Supreme People’s Court of China (SPC) held a press conference at Wuzhen, Zhejiang, in conjunction with the publication of a significant white paper titled Chinese Courts and the Internet Judiciary (downloadable here, in Chinese and in English). 

This 135-page document is a must-read for anyone who would like to have an overview of what efforts China has made towards building online judiciary courts using big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain, to understand how the online frameworks for diversified dispute resolution and litigation services have taken shape, and to know how judicial rules and policies on cyberspace governance have been established in China. 

This blog post serves as a brief introduction to the white paper. 

Contents of the white paper

I. Overall development of the Internet Judiciary 

II. Strengthening the judicial specialisation of the internet 

III. Promoting access to and benefits from the Internet Judiciary for the people 

IV. Perfecting online litigation procedures for the Internet Judiciary 

V. Improving the intelligent application scenarios in the judicial system 

VI. Improving governance over the internet through collaboration and coordination 

VII. Forming legal rules governing cyberspace 

Appendix. Influential cases of the Internet Judiciary in China 

Three Internet Courts

Currently, China has three Internet Courts. These are: 

- Hangzhou Internet Court – established on 18 August 2017 

- Beijing Internet Court – established on 9 September 2018 

- Guangzhou Internet Court – established on 28 September 2018 

Sitting upright: 'Not enough internet today' 😺

These Internet Courts are dedicated to handling internet-related cases, the court proceedings for which generally take place online. Specifically, as stipulated in Article 2 of the Provisions of the SPC on Several Issues Concerning the Trial of Cases by Internet Courts (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Provisions’. Reference: Interpretation No. 16 [2018] of the Supreme People's Court, full text here, in Chinese, translatable through Google), the Internet Courts have centralised jurisdiction over eleven types of cases that shall be accepted by the Basic People's Courts within the jurisdictions in their respective cities as courts of first instance, among which, inter alia, three types of disputes are directly relevant to intellectual property (IP): 

- Disputes over the ownership of the copyrights or neighbouring rights of works published on the internet for the first time. 

- Disputes arising from infringements of copyrights or neighbouring rights in works published or disseminated through the internet. 

- Disputes over internet domain name ownership, infringements and contracts. 

Online trial and efficiency enhancement

Unsurprisingly, the Internet Courts have managed to improve judicial efficiency, mainly by strictly implementing the ‘principle of a fully online trial’ stipulated in Article 1 of the Provision: 
An Internet Court shall try cases online, and the acceptance, service, mediation, evidence exchange, pre-trial 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.
Two points are worth flagging to understand Article 1 correctly (source: an article written by three judges from China SPC): 

- All of the above-mentioned trial procedures must be, insofar as possible, online;

- It is not an online trial if only one specific step of the trial is completed online. 

The phase achievements are demonstrated in the first paragraph on page 64 (probably by now the most-cited paragraph by news outlets): 
As of October 31, 2019, Hangzhou Internet Court, Beijing Internet Court, and Guangzhou Internet Court had accepted 118,764 internet-related cases and concluded 88,401. The rate of online filing (the lawsuits filed via the Internet) was 96.8%, and 80,819 cases concluded were proceeded online throughout the whole process. 
Compared with the case handling before, on average, it took 45 minutes in an online hearing and 38 days to conclude a case, which respectively saved time by about 3/5 and half. Up to 98% of the parties accepted first-instance judgments and ceased further appeals. It indicates that the judicial quality, efficiency, and effect of Internet Courts is a widely recognised condition.
What about IP? 

1. At page 96, under VII. Forming Legal Rules Governing the Cyberspace there is a paragraph dedicated to IP, with the subtitle Legal rule for protecting IP rights online has been strengthened. It neatly summarises several representative milestone cases and their significance. 

2. The Appendix lists ten Influential Cases of the Internet Judiciary in China, with detailed explanations of the case summaries, the courts’ decisions, and their significance. The full context of each ruling is accessible by scanning the QR code contained at the end of each case. Notably, Case 3 (page 108) and Case 4 (page 111) are directly related to IP. 

3. Of course, the white paper does not leave behind one of the most topical issues at the moment, that is blockchain and IP. By far, in China, most of the interaction of blockchain and IP takes place in the copyright field. 

‘Blockchain+judicature’ has been one of the major areas of innovation in recent years. At page 75, the section Innovating online preservation and authentication of e-evidence under Part IV. Perfecting Online Litigation Procedures for the Internet Judiciary elaborates on how Chinese courts have looked to apply blockchain technology in combination with big data and cloud storage in the judicial process, in order to tackle the challenges in the collection, preservation and authentication of e-evidence. 

Last, but absolutely not least, do not miss Case 4 at page 111, Hangzhou Huatai Media Culture Media Co., Ltd. v. Shenzhen Daotong Technology Development Co., Ltd., a case relating to a dispute over the right of dissemination over the internet, which is frequently cited as the first case in China to recognise blockchain evidence. 

Finally, some extended reading maybe? – see Kat posts on the Internet Court and on blockchain in China: 

Photo: Shelley, Tian's kitten
Supreme People’s Court of China releases white paper on Chinese courts and the Internet judiciary Supreme People’s Court of China releases white paper on Chinese courts and the Internet judiciary Reviewed by Tian Lu on Monday, December 09, 2019 Rating: 5

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