On January 30, 2015, the Supreme People's Court issued the Interpretation of the Supreme People's Court Concerning the Application of the Civil Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China (hereinafter, the "Interpretation"), which came into effect on February 4, 2015.
Consisting of 552 articles, the Interpretation is the most lengthy judicial interpretation containing the largest number of articles in the history China's judicial interpretations. The Interpretation makes large-scale modification and revision of judicial interpretations such as the Opinion of the Supreme People's Court on Several Issues Concerning the Application of the Civil Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China in 1992 (hereinafter, the "1992 Opinion") and the Several Provisions of the Supreme People's Court on Evidence in Civil Procedures (hereinafter, the "Evidentiary Provisions for Civil Procedures") and contains more comprehensive and specific requirements for relevant issues such as jurisdiction, the term of adducing evidence, withdrawal of a lawsuit and enforcement. The Interpretation is highlighted below:
- The Interpretation simplifies and unifies the criteria for the "place of contact performance." Under the Civil Procedure Law, a party may choose the competent court based on the "place of contract performance." However, there is no specific provision regarding the "place of contract performance" and the provisions of the 1992 Opinion are more complex. Article 18 of the Interpretation simplifies and unifies the criteria for the "place of contract performance." If the place of performance is stipulated in a contract, the place of performance so stipulated shall be the place of contract performance. Where the place of performance is not stipulated in a contract or where the stipulation is not clear, if the dispute relates to cash payment, the place where the cash recipient is located shall be the place of contract performance; if real estate is delivered, the location of the real estate shall be the place of contract performance; and if other subject matters are involved, the place where the party obligated to perform shall be the place of contract performance. In case of a contract under which a transaction is settled immediately, the place of transaction shall be the place of contract performance. In the absence of actual contract performance where the domicile of neither party is the same as the place of performance, the people's court for the domicile of the defendant shall have jurisdiction.
- The Interpretation specifically stipulates the scope of the place where tort in Internet information is engaged and of the place where the results of tort occur. Under Article 25 of the Interpretation, the place where tort in Internet information is engaged includes the place where the IT equipment such as a computer employed for the act of tort subject to the complaint is located. The place where the results of tort take place includes the domicile of the tort victim. In this fashion, a tort victim can bring action at the local court against another party's tort in Internet information, making it more convenient to protect rights.
- The Interpretation specifically stipulates the rules for nullifying jurisdiction clauses in a standard consumption contract. Under Article 31 of the Interpretation, where an operator enters into a jurisdiction agreement with consumers via standard clauses without calling upon the attention of the consumers by reasonable means, if the consumers assert that the jurisdiction agreement is invalid, the people's court shall be supportive.
- The Interpretation specifically provides that a third party who does not participate in the first instance trial has the right to apply to participate in second instance proceedings. Under Article 81 of the Interpretation, the people's court may approve the application filed by a third party who does not participate in the first instance proceedings to participate in the second instance proceedings.
- The Interpretation redefines the term of adducing evidence. Under Article 99 of the Interpretation, the term of adducing evidence affirmed by the people's court shall not be less than 15 days, in case of general first instance cases. However, the people's court shall determine the term of adducing evidence during the pre-trial preparatory stage. As compared with the relevant requirement (that the term of adducing evidence designated by a people's court shall not be less than 30 days in general after the day the parties receive a notice informing the acceptance of the case and requesting an answer to the complaint) under the Evidentiary Provisions for Provisions Civil Procedures, the term of adducing evidence in the Interpretation appears to be shorter. However, the term of adducing evidence under the Interpretation is determined during the "pretrial preparation stage," which is a stage between the expiration of the answer period (within 15 days upon receipt of a copy of the complaint) and the commencement of a court hearing. To wit, after the commencement of the term of adducing evidence under the Interpretation is changed to the expiration of the answer period, the actual number of days in the term of adducing evidence after the day following the parties' receipt of a notice informing the acceptance of the case and requesting an answer to the complaint at least will not be shorter than 30 days, and the actual term of adducing evidence is not reduced.
- The Interpretation specifically provides that electronic data are admissible evidence in civil cases. Article 116 of the Interpretation provides that emails, electronic data exchange, online chatting records, blog, microblog, short messages of phones, electronic signatures or domain names which are formed or stored in electronic media are electronic data. Audiovisual data stored in electronic media may be subject to electronic data requirements and become admissible evidence in civil cases.
- The Interpretation affirms the general principles for the amount of bond required in a preservation procedure. Under Article 152 of the Interpretation, if application is filed to preserve assets before litigation, a bond equivalent, in value, to the preserved object shall be provided. In case of application for property preservation before litigation, the amount of the bond shall be determined by the people's court according the specific circumstance of the case. In case of procedural preservation during litigation, the people's court shall determine if a bond is required from any party as well as the amount of the bond, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.
- The Interpretation affirms a case creation and registration system for the first time in contrast to the previous case creation and examination system. Under Article 208 of the Interpretation, when conducting formal examination of a civil complaint filed by a party, the people's court shall set up and register the case if relevant requirements are met. If it cannot be determined on the spot whether the conditions of the complaint are met, the complaint materials shall be accepted and a written receipt indicating the date of receipt shall be issued. In addition, whether the case will be created and registered should be determined in seven days.
- The Interpretation specifically provides for the conditions for the establishment of consensual jurisdiction. Under Article 223 of the Interpretation, if the parties do not object to the jurisdiction and, instead, respond to the substantive matters of a case, make statements or file counterclaims, the consensus jurisdiction can be established on such basis.
- The Interpretation specifically provides for the timing for a party's counterclaims and amendment to litigation claims. Under Article 232 of the Interpretation, the deadline for the plaintiff's addition of litigation claims and the defendant's filing of counterclaims is the end of the oral arguments in court hearings, while the deadline under the Evidentiary Provisions for Civil Procedures shall be the expiration of the term of adducing evidence. In comparison, the Interpretation provides more time for counterclaims and amendments to litigation claims by the parties.
- The Interpretation specifically provides for the conditions for a party's withdrawal of a lawsuit in first instance, second instance and retrial proceedings. Under Article 238 of the Interpretation, in cases where a party applies to withdraw the lawsuit or may apply to withdraw the lawsuit pursuant to law during first instance proceedings, if the parties have engaged in acts which violate the law and should be dealt with pursuant to law, the people's court may reject the application to withdraw a lawsuit or handle such matter in manners other than the withdrawal of the lawsuit. The plaintiff's withdrawal of the lawsuit after oral arguments in court hearings have been concluded requires the defendant's consent. Under Article 410 of the Interpretation, when applying to withdraw a complaint for the first instance trial in retrial proceedings, the plaintiff should also obtain the consent of the other party. With respect to the validity of the withdrawal of a lawsuit, the Interpretation specifically provides that the plaintiff who withdraws the first instance litigation shall be deemed to have never filed a complaint. In the second instance and retrial proceedings, the first instance plaintiff who withdraws the complaint shall not file another complaint again.
- The Interpretation specifically provides for the rules for determining repetitive filing of complaints. Under Article 247 of the Interpretation, whether a party has filed repetitive complaints shall be determined by the following criteria: (1) whether the parties in the later lawsuit are the same as the ones in the earlier one; (2) whether the subject matters of the later and earlier lawsuits are the same; and (3) whether the litigation claims in the later and earlier lawsuits are the same or whether the litigation claims in a later lawsuit actually negate the adjudication of the earlier lawsuit.
- The Interpretation affirms the privy forever principle. Article 249 of the Interpretation provides that a transfer of disputed civil rights and obligations does not affect the qualifications and status of a party as a subject of litigation. A people's court judgment or ruling which is legally effective shall be binding to the transferee.
- The Interpretation provides for the settlement, mediation and withdrawal of a public interest lawsuit. Articles 280 and 290 of the Interpretation provide that the parties to a public interest lawsuit may settle their disputes, and the people's court may mediate. After a settlement or mediation agreement is reached between the parties, the people's court shall announce the settlement or mediation agreement for a period of not less than 30 days. In case the plaintiff in a public interest lawsuit seeks to withdraw the lawsuit after the oral arguments in the court are concluded, such withdrawal is not permitted.
- The Interpretation specifically provides for the investigation authority of the enforcing court in the enforcement procedure and the obligation of the auxiliary marshal to facilitate the investigation. Under Article 485 of the Interpretation, the people's court has the right to check the identity and property information of the parties subject to enforcement, and the organizations and individuals who control relevant information are required to follow the enforcement facilitation notice. The concept of "identity and property information" in this article is rather abstract. Theoretically, this covers all subsequent new types of property and can accommodate the requirements for the emergence of new types of property and serve as a more direct and specific legal basis for property inquiries by an enforcing court.
- The Interpretation also extends the period for seizing all kinds of property. As compared with the previous requirement, Article 487 of the Interpretation extends the maximum seizure period. In case of bank deposit, the period is extended from 6 months to one year; in case of personal property, the period is extended from one year to two years; and in case of real estate, the period is extended from two years to three years. In addition, the period of continued seizure is the same as that of the first seizure.