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China: Railway Courts Integrated into National Court System

(Sept. 12, 2012) By the end of June 2012, all railway courts in China had been integrated into the national court system, according to a Supreme People’s Court (SPC) statement posted on July 30, 2012, on its official website. In the past, the 17 intermediate and 58 lower-level railway courts had been under the purview of the Ministry of Railways as special courts. (Quanguo Tielu Fayuan Quanbu Gaizhi Yijiao Difang [All Railway Courts Have Been Reformed and Transferred to Localities] [hereinafter SPC Statement], SPC website (July 30, 2012).)

On July 17, 2012, the SPC issued a judicial interpretation clarifying the jurisdiction of the railway courts. The interpretation took effect on August 1, 2012. (Zuigao Renmin Fayuan Guanyu Tielu Yunshu Fayuan Anjian Guanxia Fanwei de Ruogan Guiding [Certain Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on the Jurisdiction of Railway Transport Courts over Cases], Fa Shi [2012] No. 10 [hereinafter SPC Interpretation] (July 17, 2012), SPC website.)

According to the Xinhua News Agency, the railway courts were first created in 1954, but were shut down three years later. They were re-opened in the 1980s, when a three-tier railway court system was created with a supreme railway court located in Beijing. The supreme level was removed in 1987, leaving the current intermediate and lower-level courts. (China Reforms Railway Court System, XINHUANET (July 31, 2012).) More than 3,300 staff members and assets worth a total of RMB7 billion (about US$1.1 billion) of the railway court system were transferred from the Ministry of Railways to the judiciary. (Id.) The courts’ budgets and personnel will now be set by the local government and the people’s congress at the same level. (SPC Statement, supra.)

The judicial interpretation provides that the railway courts handle crimes committed in railway stations and in trains, crimes targeting railway properties, and crimes committed by railway employees. (SPC Interpretation, supra, art. 1.) Civil cases related to railway transportation, security, and property, including disputes over the compensation for victims of railroad accidents and for environmental pollution caused by railway construction and transportation, are also heard by the railway courts. (Id. art. 3.)

After having been integrated into the national court system, the railway courts may now accept private prosecution cases, which are mostly minor criminal cases that may be brought by victims. (Id. art 2.) The higher courts may also assign the railway courts within their respective jurisdictions to handle other civil cases and to enforce judgments or rulings of other courts. (Id. art. 5.)