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China: Circular on Suggestions for Improving Grassroots Courts Issued by Apex Court

(Mar. 9, 2011) China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) issued a circular on February 15, 2011, calling upon courts at the grassroots level to handle cases more efficiently to reduce the number of appeals, given the increasing number of lawsuits in the country. At a press conference, SPC spokesman Sun Jungong pointed out that the basic courts face a severe challenge as various types of social conflict, the causes of which have become more complicated in recent years, inundate the courts in the form of lawsuits. (China's Grassroots Courts Urged To Improve Efficiency, XINHUA (Feb. 15, 2011).)

According to Sun, about 90% of lawsuits and 80% of court personnel are at the grassroots level. In 2010, he stated, the grassroots courts adjudicated 9,337,669 cases, constituting 89.43% of all cases adjudicated by the country's courts, and among these, the number of resolved cases was 2,425,652, or 96.71% of all those settled by China's courts. (Luo Shuzhen, The Supreme People's Court Demands Strengthening Grassroots Basic Construction [in Chinese], The Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China website [hereinafter SPC website] (Feb. 15, 2011).)

The circular's 27 opinions are presented under the four headings of: 1) the aims and underlying principles of court building at the grassroots level; 2) the full development of the courts' role in adjudication; 3) the comprehensive strengthening of the ranks of court personnel; and 4) the upgrading of court equipment to keep up with standards. The circular calls for, among other steps:

  • facilitating litigation (through, e.g., consolidating and perfecting the direct case filing mechanism, enhancing simplified procedures, and doing a good job of the pilot plan for a rapid-decision mechanism for a small number of cases);
  • elaborating the unique advantages of the use of lay assessors in trials (with “an emphasis on gathering personages of different professions, gender, ages, and disciplines, to ensure the breadth, representativeness, and mass character of the people's assessors contingent,” and by “perfecting the mechanism of 'random sampling' of lay assessors to better bring about judicial democracy”);
  • expanding the effectiveness of circuit justice;
  • persisting in “making mediation a priority and integrating mediation and adjudication”;
  • strengthening the role of Chinese Communist Party members in the courts;
  • promoting judicial integrity and establishing a more robust occupational safeguard system and incentive mechanism;
  • improving recruitment policies at the provincial level and broadening sources for the selection of judges, in order to address the problem of courts being overloaded with lawsuits and short on judges; and
  • further implementing the strategy of gathering and developing talent at the grassroots (e.g., by 2012, having civil servants in people's courts at the provincial level or higher who, with only certain exceptions, have all been tested and hired from among personnel who have at least two years' work experience at the grassroots level).

(SPC Circular on Certain Opinions on Further Strengthening Basic Grassroots Construction of People's Courts Under the New Situation (SPC Doc. No. 4 of 2011) [in Chinese], SPC website (last visited Mar. 7, 2011).)