How does Hangzhou Internet Court hear cases online and use electronic evidence?
Hangzhou Internet Court may be the most experienced court in China in dealing with e-commerce disputes. Because Hangzhou Internet Court has jurisdiction over cases related to e-commerce in the whole city of Hangzhou, which is the most developed area of e-commerce in China. For example, Alibaba, the largest e-commerce company in China, is headquartered in Hangzhou, making the court willing to try more technological innovations.
Judge Du Qian (杜前), President of Hangzhou Internet Court, together with other two judges recently published an article titled “Practice of Hangzhou Internet Court Serving and Guaranteeing Innovative Development of E-Commerce” (杭州互联网法院服务保障电子商务创新发展的实践) in the “People’s Judicature” (人民司法) (No. 25, 2019),  a journal affiliated to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), showing us how Hangzhou Internet Court hears cases. In this post, we will introduce the operation of Hangzhou Internet Court according to its promulgated rules and this article.
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I. Use of Electronic Evidence
1. Consumer’s dilemma: not good at using electronic evidence
Most of the consumers are not quite acquainted with obtaining, preserving or submitting electronic evidence.
The process of e-commerce transactions occurs on the Internet, so the transaction information of both sides is transmitted not through paper, but through electronic data. Therefore, the evidence of such disputes is mainly in the form of electronic data.
Chinese courts generally believe that data may be tampered with, polluted or deleted by the parties afterward. Therefore, if the data is not obtained and preserved in a specific form, the court will probably doubt the authenticity and integrity of the data and thus hold the evidence unreliable.
In the process of using the online trading platform, consumers often do not have the intention to extract and save the transaction data from the platform, or do not know how to do so. Even if they do, the data usually does not meet the formal requirements of the court. This prevents the court from admitting such evidence and finding the facts of the case accordingly.
2. Solution: construction of electronic evidence platform
In order to solve the above problems, Hangzhou Internet Court has built an electronic evidence platform, which not only benefits consumers, but also facilitates other subjects to participate in litigation.
(1) The platform is connected to several mainstream e-commerce trading platforms such as Taobao (https://www.taobao.com/) and Tmall (https://www.tmall.com/), from which the court can easily obtain data.
If the parties incur disputes on these platforms, they can synchronously obtain the relevant transaction data saved on such e-commerce platforms and use the same as electronic evidence through the online litigation platform of Hangzhou Internet Court. Such electronic evidence usually includes transaction orders, logistics information, chat records and so on. This not only solves the problem of collecting data from e-commerce platform by the parties themselves, and also saves their monetary expenses (such as fees for expert witnesses) and their time to submit electronic evidence and examine the evidence in court.
(2) The platform is also connected to other platforms related to electronic evidence, such as financial institutions, notary institutions, and third-party evidence preservation agencies.
Based on that, Hangzhou Internet Court has launched the first judicial blockchain platform in China, which means the court uses blockchain technology to form a judicial alliance chain. The blockchain platform links notary offices, forensic examination centers, and courts, making each unit a node. All the links such as data generation, storage, dissemination, and use are completed on that platform. The Court hopes to use this technology to improve the reliability of the data.
(3) Hangzhou Internet Court has formulated rules for the examination of electronic evidence, such as “Standards for Electronic Evidence Platform” (电子证据平台规范) and “Rules for Judicial Review of Electronic Data Evidence” (电子数据证据司法审查细则). Both judges and parties can use electronic evidence more conveniently pursuant to these rules.
II. The Development of Full-process Online Litigation
In order to standardize online litigation, Hangzhou Internet Court promulgated a series of online litigation rules (totaling 15 sets of such rules), such as the “Procedures for Trial of Litigation Platform” (诉讼平台审理规程) and the “Procedures for Asynchronous Trial of Internet-related Cases” (涉网案件异步审理规程). These rules provide for a complete online litigation process.
1. Online processing of litigation
According to the Procedures for Trial of Litigation Platform, after logging in to the online litigation platform by computer or smartphone, the parties can go through all the litigation process online, including case filing, case acceptance, court appearance, argument, service of process, mediation, presentation of evidence, examination of evidence, pretrial conference, court trial, adjudication, enforcement application and payment of court costs.
Hangzhou Internet Court has developed corresponding technology to solve the problems emerging in the online trial, such as online identification of litigants, service of process, electronic evidence determination, behavior control and so on. Now, litigants can participate in the case trial throughout at home.
2. Development of asynchronous court trial
Hangzhou Internet Court has also developed an asynchronous trial mode, and promulgated the corresponding provision, i.e., “Procedures for Asynchronous Trial of Internet-related Cases”. Judges and parties can choose a different time to log in to the platform and complete the corresponding litigation process. In short, this kind of litigation is conducted asynchronously and in different places. The adoption of this mode requires the consent of all parties concerned and the final decision of the judge.
After the judge decides to adopt this trial mode, the asynchronous trial mode will be initiated, which is divided into questioning, debating and closing statements.
The parties and judges ask questions in the online dialog box. Questioning is divided into two sessions:
The first is the mutual questioning session, the time limit of which is 24 hours. The parties ask questions in random order. They can answer immediately after being questioned, or they can just ask their own questions without answering for the time being. Then there comes the answering session, which lasts 24 hours after the mutual questioning session. During this session, the parties can only answer questions.
There is no time limit for the judge to ask questions.
If, in the opinion of the judge, there is no need to ask questions, they may directly move forward into the debating session.
Within 48 hours after the end of the questioning session, the parties concerned may express their opinions in random order.
(3) Closing statements
Within 24 hours after the end of the debating session, the parties shall give their final statement in a random order, and at the same time decide whether to accept mediation or not.
III. My Comments
China’s Internet courts are constantly exploring new possibilities. Other courts in China are introducing the practice of Internet courts and have adopted similar practices in some cases. Therefore, observing Hangzhou Internet Court is conducive to our prediction about the development trend of other courts in China.
Cover Photo by Vined(https://pixabay.com/users/vined-3442148/) from Pixabay