China Justice Observer

中国司法观察

Adjudication Committee being Reshaped by China's Judicial Reform - The Adjudication Committee Series - 03

Sun, 05 Jan 2020
Categories: Insights

 

This is the third post in the Adjudication Committee Series. I will introduce how the Supreme People’s court has reformed this institution step by step.

The Series is composed of three posts, respectively discussing:

1. What is the adjudication committee of the Chinese court?

2. Why do Chinese courts need adjudication members and reform the same?

3. How is the judicial reform reshaping the adjudication committee of the Chinese court?

This is the third post in the Series.

China has carried out several rounds of judicial reform, and the ongoing round pays the highest attention to the adjudication committee.

The direction of the current judicial reform is mainly reflected in the two five-year plans of judicial reform formulated in 2014 and 2019 respectively. The reform of the adjudication committee is one of the main tasks of the two plans. In the process of the implementation of the two plans, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has promulgated several documents on the reform of the adjudication committee successively, thus providing more specific measures for the reform thereto.

I. Development of the adjudication committee

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the adjudication committee had been set up in Chinese courts. [1]During the cultural revolution in 1966-1978, [2]the adjudication committee was abolished. After 1979, it has been restored and running to this day. [3]

In 1993[4] and 2010[5], the SPC successively promulgated regulations on the working model of the adjudication committee, which depicts the adjudication committee before the current judicial reform.

After the current judicial reform started in 2014, the SPC has carried out several reforms on the adjudication committee from different perspectives, and finalized the new working model of the adjudication committee in Sept. 2019 (see the first post in the series). [6]

II. Reform objective: the existing adjudication committee

According to the relevant provisions on the adjudication committee promulgated by the SPC in 2010, the adjudication committee became the highest judicial organization of the court. Therefore, the most important issues related to case trials in a Chinese court would be decided by its adjudication committee.

According to the aforementioned 2010 regulations, the functions of the adjudication committee are: (1) to summarize the case trial experience; and (2) to discuss and decide the hard, complex and major cases to be tried by the collegial panel. [7]

In the regulations, the SPC systematically describes for the first time how the SPC and the adjudication committees of the local courts discuss cases, including:

(1) Which cases shall and which cases may be submitted to the adjudication committee for discussion;

(2) Sources and qualifications of members of the adjudication committee; and

(3)The case discussion procedure and principles of the adjudication committee, such as decision making by voting, one person one vote, subordination of the minority to the majority.

III. 2014: finalize the reform direction

In the SPC’s fourth five-year reform plan of 2014, [8]there are three specific directions for the reform of the adjudication committee, namely:

1. Determine the priority function

As for the two main functions (i.e. summarize the case trial experience and discuss specific cases) of the adjudication committee determined in 2010, the fourth five-year reform plan holds that the former function should be strengthened while the latter one should be limited.

2. Working mechanism

The adjudication committee should optimize its meeting rules.

3. Accountability mechanism

The adjudication committee shall truthfully record its discussion process and make its work public within a certain range. Members of the adjudication committee shall be subject to assessment. This will hold the adjudication committee accountable for cases under its discussion. Prior to this, the adjudication committee had the power to decide the outcome of the case, but bore no responsibility therefor.

IV. 2015: limit the function of discussing specific cases

In 2015, based on the fourth five-year reform plan, the SPC proposed four specific directions for the reform of the judicial accountability system, [9]namely:     

1. Narrow down the scope of specific cases discussed by the adjudication committee

From then on, the adjudication committee would only discuss the major and complex cases involving national diplomacy, security, and social stability, as well as the application of law in major, hard and complex cases. To this end, the SPC has divided such cases into four categories:

(1) cases involving group disputes that may affect social stability;

(2) hard and complex cases with a significant impact on society;

(3) cases that may conflict with similar judgments of the court or courts at a higher level;

(4) cases in which the relevant units or individuals report that a judge has committed malpractice.

2. Weaken the adjudication committee’s power of decision making in specific cases: discuss the application of law only

The adjudication committee will no longer have the power to determine the fact-finding of the case, but can only discuss the application of law therein. This shows that, as the adjudication committee members will not personally experience the presentation and examination of evidence by the parties in court, the SPC thinks they should not participate in the fact-finding of the case.

3. Record the discussion process and be subject to supervision

The discussion process of the adjudication committee shall be recorded and videotaped with meeting minutes made available. If the decision of the adjudication committee is proved to be illegal thereafter, the members who voted for the decision shall be held accountable for perverting the law for case trials.

V. 2017: strengthen the guiding function

In 2015, the reform of the judicial accountability system focused on the function of the adjudication committee to discuss specific cases; while in 2017, the SPC made it clear that the adjudication committee should intensify its guiding function by formulating the court’s “precedents”, that was, the so-called “similar cases” (类案). [10]

VI. 2018: strengthen the supervision on judges

During the early judicial reform, judges were given more independence, while the supervision from supervisors, including the adjudication committee, was weakened. However, after three years of testing, the SPC found that this had decreased the quality of judges’ work. Therefore, in 2018, the SPC promulgated a new document to explore how the adjudication committee can supervise the specific case trial while respecting judges’ independence. [11]

1. Avoid omitting cases

After the SPC stipulated four categories of cases to be discussed by the adjudication committee in 2015, there were still a large number of cases that should but not be submitted to the adjudication committee. In 2018, the SPC strengthened the mechanism for the adjudication committee to participate in such cases.

Firstly, the SPC requires the collegial panel to submit to the adjudication committee cases that may produce new trial standards or change the original ones.

Secondly, the SPC requires the court’s information system to be equipped with some more functions, which can automatically remind the president of the court that there are cases that should be submitted to the adjudication committee.

2. Disclose the opinions of the adjudication committee

The SPC requires that the decision of the adjudication committee and the reasons thereto should be made public in the judgment. This will make the adjudication committee transparent to some extent and will likely affect its actual decision-making process.

VII. 2019: finalize the completely new working model of the adjudication committee

After preliminary exploration, in Sept. 2019, the SPC officially determined the complete plan of reforming the adjudication committee (see the first post in the Series for details). [12]The plan adopts the experience from many attempts since 2014.

We need to pay attention to the new key points in 2019:

1. “Sensitive cases involving national security, diplomacy, social stability, etc.” have been added to the cases that must be discussed by the adjudication committee. For foreign parties, this may mean that major foreign-related cases will be discussed by the adjudication committee.

2. The Meeting of Presiding Judges (“Judges’ Meeting”) shall discuss the case before the adjudication committee does so. This meeting mechanism was established in 2018, which is a way of discussing cases among the judges of the court, but their discussion result is not binding on the collegial panel. [13]Providing professional advice is one of the reasons of the adjudication committee’s emergence. Now the SPC has established the Judges’ Meeting mechanism, which can replace the adjudication committee to do such job to a certain extent, thus to reduce its participation in specific cases.

 

References:

[1] 1949年《中央人民政府最高人民法院试行组织条例》,1950 年《人民法庭组织通则》,1954 年《人民法院组织法》。

[2] 公丕潜:《无需当事人的审判》,吉林大学,2018博士学位论文.

[3] 1979年《人民法院组织法》,1983年《人民法院组织法》,1986年《人民法院组织法》,2006年《人民法院组织法》,2018《人民法院组织法》。

[4] 《最高人民法院审判委员会工作规则》(法发[1993]23号)

[5] 《最高人民法院关于改革和完善人民法院审判委员会制度的实施意见》(法发[2010]3号)

[6] 《最高人民法院关于健全完善人民法院审判委员会工作机制的意见》(法发[2019]20号)

[7] 《最高人民法院关于改革和完善人民法院审判委员会制度的实施意见》(法发[2010]3号)第3条。

[8] 《最高人民法院关于全面深化人民法院改革的意见——人民法院第四个五年改革纲要(2014-2018)》(法发〔2015〕3号)

[9] 《最高人民法院关于完善人民法院司法责任制的若干意见》(法发[2015]13号)

[10] 《最高人民法院关于落实司法责任制完善审判监督管理机制的意见(试行)》(法发[2017]11号)

[11] 《最高人民法院关于进一步全面落实司法责任制的实施意见》(法发[2018]23号)

[12] 《最高人民法院关于健全完善人民法院审判委员会工作机制的意见》(法发[2019]20号)

[13] 《关于健全完善人民法院 主审法官会议工作机制的指导意见(试行)》(法发[2018]21号)

 

Cover Photo by Alexandre Chambon(https://unsplash.com/@goodspleen) on Unsplash

Contributors: Guodong Du 杜国栋

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