The self-admission system in the civil procedure means that, during the litigation, once one party states or explicitly acknowledges the facts against itself, the other party can be exempt from the burden of proof for these facts. The self-admission is the disposition of the litigant’s procedural rights, and may have a substantive impact on the fact-finding and the burden of proof. It is very important for the litigants to understand the elements of self-admission, in order to avoid wrongly-made self-admission and take advantage of the self-admission made by the other party.
I. What adverse statement would constitute self-admission?
According to Chinese law, a party’s statement or explicit acknowledgment of the facts against itself during the litigation constitutes self-admission. In this regard, we’d like to specify the following points:
i. Self-admission needs to be made during the litigation, not only including oral confession made in a court trial, pre-trial meeting, etc., but also confession made in the documents submitted to the court and the other party.
ii. Self-admission can only aim at the facts of the case, but not the legal issues.
iii. Self-admission includes both the voluntary statement of one party and the acknowledgment of the other party’s statement. If one party neither confirms nor denies the fact against it proposed by the other party, and still refuses to express its confirmation or denial upon explanation by the judges, it shall be deemed as acknowledging the fact so proposed.
iv. The self-admission of the attorney within the authorization shall also be deemed as the self-admission of the party itself, unless the party concerned denies it on the spot.
v. The self-admission rule does not apply to the facts involving personal relationships, national interests, and social/public interests.
II. The legal effect of self-admission
For the adverse facts admitted by one party, the other party no longer needs to bear the burden of proof, and the court may directly determine the facts of the case based on the self-admission.
In principle, the self-admission is irrevocable once made, unless the other party agrees so, or the self-admission is made under duress or based on major misunderstandings. In the absence of the above circumstances, if the parties want to revoke the self-admitted facts, they must provide sufficient evidence to prove the contrary, otherwise the court can still make a decision based on the self-admitted facts.
In the case of multiple plaintiffs/defendants, the effectiveness of the self-admission made by one plaintiff/defendant depends on the nature of the case, i.e., whether it is an ordinary joint action or a necessary joint action.
In the ordinary joint action, the self-admission made by some of the joint litigants is only effective for themselves, but not for other joint litigants. The ordinary joint action refers to a coordinated action instituted by two or more plaintiffs or against two or more defendants in which the subject matter is separable. Such multiple parties are not necessarily required to participate in the court proceedings together. For example, in the equity transfer dispute, if several shareholders sell their equity to the same investor who does not pay the consideration to any shareholder, these shareholders can jointly or individually file a lawsuit against the investor.
By contrast, in the necessary joint action, the self-admission made by some of the joint litigants must be recognized by other joint litigants, otherwise it will not have the effect of self-admission. In the necessary joint action, multiple parties pursue the same subject matter, that is, they have a common and indivisible right and obligation for the legal relationship in dispute, and all obligees or obligors must act as the plaintiff or the defendant collectively. For example, where the creditor lists the debtor and the guarantor as joint defendants, if the guarantor acknowledges the legal relationship agreed in the main contract while the debtor denies it, or vice versa, the acknowledgment will not be deemed as self-admission for both the debtor and the guarantor. Therefore, the court cannot directly determine the existence of the debt relationship agreed in the main contract.
It should be noted that the court has the right not to admit the self-admitted fact if it is inconsistent with the fact proved by other evidence. This kind of situation often occurs when the plaintiff and the defendant collude with each other maliciously to file sham litigation to help the defendant transfer property and escape debts. Therefore, in practice, even if one party makes self-admission, some judges will continue to inquire about the relevant facts to nip the sham litigation in the bud.
III. Some special circumstances
i. Acknowledgment made in another case
The self-admission made by the parties in other cases cannot directly produce the legal effect of self-admission in this case. However, if the facts admitted in other cases are recorded in effective judgments, and there is no evidence proving to the contrary, these facts can be directly admitted by the court in this case.
ii. Acknowledgment made in mediation and settlement
In the process of mediation presided over by the court and the settlement conducted by the parties themselves, the concessions made by the parties against themselves cannot be regarded as the self-admission of the parties. This is because Chinese law encourages the parties to settle disputes through compromise so as to save time and money for all. It is obvious that the parties will be hesitated to compromise and reach an agreement if the concessions so made will be regarded as a self-admission.
If the settlement is carried out by the parties themselves, we suggest that the parties record the process of the dialogue and make it clear at the beginning that any facts acknowledged during the settlement negotiation shall not be taken as self-admission.
iii. Acknowledgment made on other occasions
Some parties will preserve the facts acknowledged by the other party in other occasions than mediation and settlement through audio recording (for the secret recording, see earlier post for details). This kind of “acknowledgment” obtained secretly can be used as evidence, but it does not have the effect of self-admission. The lawfulness and the probative force of such evidence still need to be determined by the judge in combination with the specific circumstances and other evidence, and the party presenting such evidence generally needs to provide other evidence for corroboration.
Photo by zhang kaiyv (https://unsplash.com/@zhangkaiyv) on Unsplash
Contributors: Chenyang Zhang 张辰扬 , Yue Wu 武悦