On January 28, 2015, the Supreme People's Court promulgated the Provisions of the Supreme People's Court on Specific Issues Relating to Cases Heard by Circuit Courts (hereinafter, the "Provisions"), which entered into effect on February 1, 2015. The Supreme People's Court set up circuit courts primarily for the timely and fair hearing of major administrative, civil and commercial cases pursuant to law across administrative areas, delegate trial workloads, resolve disputes locally, and provide litigation convenience to the parties. The Provisions are highlighted as follows:
First, the Provisions specifically stipulate the location and the territorial scope of cases accepted by a circuit court. Currently, the Supreme People's Court sets up two circuit courts to hear relevant cases within their circuit areas. The first circuit court of the Supreme People's Court is set up in Shenzhen City of Guangdong Province with three provinces – Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan – as its circuit area, whereas the second circuit court is set up in Shenyang City of Liaoning Province with three provinces – Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang – as its circuit area. The Supreme People's Court may set up additional circuit courts and adjust the circuit area and scope of case acceptance of each circuit court according to relevant requirements and trial needs.
In addition, the Provisions specifically stipulate the scope of cases heard or handled by a circuit court, specifically the following cases accepted by the Supreme People's Court within the circuit area: (1) major and complex first-instance administrative cases with a national reach; (2) first-instance civil or commercial cases with major national implications; (3) appeal cases filed out of dissatisfaction with first-instance administrative or civil or commercial decisions or rulings rendered by high people's courts; (4) retrial cases for administrative or civil or commercial decisions, rulings or mediations rendered by a high court which have become legally effective; (5) criminal appeal cases; (6) retrial cases filed ex officio; (7) cases involving application for reconsideration of penalty or detention decisions rendered by a high court; (8) cases submitted to the Supreme People's Court for a ruling or decision with respect to a jurisdiction issue; (9) cases submitted by a high court to seek an extension of the trial period; (10) civil or commercial cases and judicial assistance cases involving Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan; and (11) other cases which the Supreme People's Court believes shall be heard or handled by a circuit court. However, intellectual property rights, commercial matters involving foreign parties, maritime, death sentence review, national compensation, and enforcement cases, as well as cases involving protests of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, are still handled by the Supreme People's Court for the time being.
Third, if a party appeals out of dissatisfaction with a first-instance administrative or civil or commercial decision or ruling rendered by the high people's court within the circuit area, the appeal shall be filed with the circuit court via the original people's court that tried the case. When a party directly appeals to the circuit court, the circuit court shall transfer the appeal to the original trial court within five days. The original trial court which receives the appeal and answer shall submit the same to the circuit court along with the entire case files evidence within five days.
Fourth, if a party applies for retrial or lodges a petition with respect to a decision of a high people's court within the circuit area which has become legally effective, an application for retrial or petition shall be filed with the circuit court.
In addition, a circuit court should implement an accountability system in which cases are tried by trial judges in a collegiate panel under the principle of enabling the judges hearing the cases to reach verdicts and bear relevant responsibilities. The trial judges in a circuit court should be selected from judges with outstanding trial capabilities and rich trial experience by the Supreme People's Court. A collegiate bench in a circuit court should consist of trial judges. The president and vice president of the circuit court should sit on the collegiate bench to try cases. When a case is tried by a collegiate bench, a trial judge that handles this case should serve as the presiding judge. When participating in a collegiate bench to try a case, the president or vice president will be the presiding judge. A decision or ruling rendered by a circuit court should be issued by the presiding judge after being signed by the members of the collegiate bench.