China’s Supreme People's Court (SPC) is prompting judges to explain their reasons as carefully as possible in judgment writing.
In June 2018, the SPC issued the “Guiding Opinions on Strengthening and Standardizing the Analysis and Reasoning in Adjudicative Instruments” (关于加强和规范裁判文书释法说理的指导意见) (hereinafter referred as the "Guiding Opinions"), requiring judges to "interpret laws and facts and their reasoning" more carefully in the judgments.
The SPC said that the judge should carefully write reasons in the judgment, the purpose of which is to explain the process of making a decision and to ensure fairness in the outcome. This will make judgments more acceptable to the parties and the public and improve the judicial credibility of Chinese courts. In the end, it can realize Xi Jinping's idea of justice: enabling the people to feel equity and justice in every case.
Prior to this, some Chinese judges were terribly unserious when writing judgments, for example:
(1) Some judgments are very identical. Some judges are used to plagiarizing judgments of similar cases, resulting in the fact that many judgments are different only in the names of parties and the amounts in controversy, while other texts are basically the same.
(2) Some judgments are very brief. Some judges directly draw conclusions instead of explaining how and why the decision is made.
(3) Some judgments are illogical. Apart from vague descriptions of case facts, some judgments also have logical errors in analyzing the issues.
(4) The text and format of the judgments are incorrect. Text errors, non-conformity with the standard in format, and the inferior printing quality can sometimes be found in judgments
I have also seen many judgments of poor quality at work. Many judgments are only two or three pages, of which: most of the content is excerpts of the pleadings and a list of evidence; then, the judge directly puts forward his point of view after summing up the issues only in one paragraph. Usually, the judge does not explain the reason for forming such viewpoints, or, sometimes, the judge gives the reason but fails to explain the omission or rejection of other equally obvious reasons or possibilities.
There are three main reasons for these problems in the judgments:
First of all, Chinese laws are not case law, so judgments are usually not cited. Except for the parties concerned, others will not see the judgment. Because of this, some judges do not care that much about the quality of judgments.
Second, many judges believe that as long as the verdicts and outcomes are fair, the reasoning of the judgments need not be too detailed. Moreover, in their views, the more someone writes in the judgment, the easier it is for the parties and the appellate court to find mistakes. Therefore, these judges tend to write as little as possible.
Moreover, most judges are not good at reasoning and presenting reasons. Many judges in the primary courts are accustomed to writing judgments briefly, and thus, to a large extent, having forgotten how to properly reason and present reasons.
Now, the SPC judges and many scholars are calling for judges to give careful and detailed reasoning in the judgments as much as possible, because only by doing this can judgments truly persuade the parties and settle the disputes, thus avoiding more social conflicts.
Now, the SPC has finally set about to change this situation because:
First of all, the SPC established the website of “China Judgments Online” in 2014 and endeavors to grant public access to almost all judgments nationwide. Since then, the public has found many judgments of poor quality and expressed dissatisfaction.
Second, the judgment’s poor quality rendered itself inconvincible, which led the parties to believe that the judgment was unfair, although it was probably not really unfair. The SPC hopes to change people's prejudices against the court.
What’s more, the SPC is trying to establish a Chinese-style “case law”. For example, the SPC selects well-written and reasoned judgments and publish them as guiding cases for reference; the SPC also tries to push the judgments of similar cases to judges for reference in order to increase judicial efficiency. The SPC hopes to improve the judgments’ quality so that they can be used as "precedents".
In the aforementioned Guiding Opinions, the SPC has explained how judges should write reasons for judgment, including: how to establish the facts, apply the law, adopt the evidence, and exclude the illegally obtained evidence.
The SPC also requires local courts to select high-quality judgments as judgments of typical cases for reference. The SPC will also select high-quality judgments nationwide while publicly criticize poor-quality ones. In addition, the SPC encourages third parties outside courts to evaluate the judgments’ quality.
However, China is currently facing the litigation explosion, which has burdened most judges with a heavy workload, so that they have to work overtime. Under this situation, whether the judges have enough time to improve the judgments’ quality, we will wait and see.