Circuit Courts Promote Judicial Reform


Judges in Charge   


Under the “Let the trial judge and the judge be in charge” principle, the presiding judge selected by the Supreme People’s Court and the collegiate bench preside over cases tried in circuit courts.


Fang Yongmei had been a judge in criminal trials at Nantong Intermediate People’s Court in Jiangsu Province for more than a decade when, in December 2014, she received notification from the Supreme People’s Court of a two-year posting in Shenyang as assistant judge in the Second Circuit Court. “This was a valuable opportunity to work with excellent Supreme People’s Court judges,” Fang said.  


Fang helps the presiding judge receive appellants. “As they are generally emotional during the one-hour interview, the presiding judge must exercise patience when listening to appellants’ grievances and try to calm them while giving clear explanations. All of the information about their situations is computerized,” Fang said.  


Circuit courts hear four types of cases. First are administrative cases in first instance that are of significance and complexity on a national scale and civil and commercial cases in the first instance that have major impact on the country.


Second are appeals against judgments of administrative, civil or commercial cases in the first instance at the Higher People’s Court; applications for retrials of administrative, civil or commercial cases whose rulings by the Higher People’s Court have come into effect; criminal petition cases; and retrial cases heard by the court in performing its judicial supervision function. These cases at present account for a large proportion of the Supreme People’s Court mandate. Putting them within the ambit of circuit courts will alleviate pressure on the Supreme People’s Court and so be of help to clients and litigants.  


Third are cases concerning procedural matters – largely appeals to reconsider decisions by the Higher People’s Court on fines and detentions; cases the Higher People’s Court submits to the Supreme People’s Court for rulings or decisions due to restraints on the former’s jurisdiction; and appeals to the Higher People’s Court to extend case time limits.


Fourth are civil and commercial cases and judicial assistance cases involving parties from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, so making lawsuits convenient for residents of these regions.


The Shenzhen circuit court can also accept and judge such above-mentioned cases in Guangdong and Hainan provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The Shenyang circuit court covers Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang provinces.


“The location choice of the circuit courts is closely related to local economic and social development as well as the work of judicial adjudication,” Sun Jungong said.  


Establishing the First Circuit Court in Shenzhen is mainly due to Guangdong’s rapid economic development and consequently large volume of cases. Also, as the SEZ is close to Hong Kong and Macao, it handles a wide range of cases. Establishing a circuit court here, therefore, will help to unify applicable legal standards.


Locating the Second Circuit Court in Shenyang is attributable to Northeast China’s historical industrial bases, where disputes under the context of economic restructuring and industrial upgrading are steadily growing. The Second Circuit Court will promote development of these old industrial bases in both economic and social spheres.


Sun believes that the Supreme People’s Court will add new circuit courts in the future, and timely adjust the regions and scope of cases they deal with according to conditions.


The circuit court is expected to reach verdicts in situ as far as possible, which is a big challenge to judges, according to Yu Zhengping, vice president of the Second Circuit Court.


“This mode of judgment is of benefit to society as a whole, and also tests the traditional judicial case-handling mechanism and running mode,” Yu said.


Prevent Judicial Corruption


In addition to installing an Ombudsman-like position for day-to-day supervision of the circuit court, the circuit courts have also imposed on their staff a lifelong accountability system that entails investigations into misjudged cases. Presiding judges are selected by the Supreme People’s Court, and serve two-year tenures to inhibit the forming of local interest relationships.


Circuit court cases are consolidated into the Supreme People’s Court’s trial information integrated management platform. Registration information, trial procedures, and judgment documents are accessible to concerned parties and open to social supervision. 


Moreover, the Supreme People’s Court discipline inspection and supervision department will supervise the work of circuit courts, and an online complaints and report platform will strengthen related judicial inspection and trial supervision.


“Promoting justice through openness and social supervision will maximally lower people’s misgivings about judicial fairness,” Yu said. “All trial details are open to the public and can be exposed. As regards procedures, more reforms are forthcoming.”


The judicial work of the Second Circuit Court will be more open than that of the Supreme People’s Court headquarters, according to president of the Second Circuit Court Hu Yunteng. Judgment documents and related rules and regulations will be put online, so allowing the public to ensure justice.


The goal of judicial reform is to resolve social disputes through judicial channels according to the rule of law. In this context, the circuit court is an effective judicial reform measure.  

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