From 2015 to 2020 the basic structure of the Chinese court system remained as four levels:
- the Supreme People's Court;
- the higher people's courts, which sit in each province and four municipalities (ie, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing) and are directly under the central government;
- the intermediate people's courts; and
- the basic people's courts.
To improve trial quality and efficiency, specialised courts have been established since 2015. The Chinese court system has also been developing diversified methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation, and novel forms of virtual trial, such as online hearings.
This article provides an overview of internet courts, including which matters can be heard therein and the courts' use of online proceedings.(1)
To cope with the growing litigation demands arising from the internet industry, China established the first specialised internet court in Hangzhou City on 26 June 2017. Hangzhou City is the capital of Zhejiang Province, a metropolitan area 200km from China's economic centre, Shanghai. Hangzhou City is where internet giant Alibaba's headquarters are based (BABA: New York, 9988.HK). The city is also the domicile centre for China's internet industry, which consists of numerous small and medium-sized internet enterprises. With the success of the Hangzhou Internet Court, in September 2018 the Internet Court of Beijing Municipality and the Internet Court of Guangzhou City were also put into operation.
In other cities, there are tribunals within the courts specialised in hearing cases related to the Internet, such as Changning Basic People's Court in Shanghai Municipality, or there is a particular bench inside a court which specialises in hearing similar cases, such as that within the Zhenjiang Basic People's Court of Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province.
The internet courts' jurisdiction mainly focuses on cases relating to the Internet, such as disputes arising from or in connection with:
- internet services such as online music or video streaming;
- internet loans;
- copyright in works that are published or distributed on the Internet;
- domain names; and
- cyber torts.
Online trials are the most important characteristic of internet courts. In principle, the following actions are usually carried out through the courts' online platform:
- case docketing and filing;
- service of court documents;
- correspondence between litigators and the courts;
- the production and exchange of evidence;
- pre-trial matters;
- court hearings; and
the pronouncement of judgments and orders.(2)
Compared with conventional physical trials, the most challenging part of an online trial can be the evidence's verification and cross-examination. There are two routes in this regard:
- If the electronic data submitted to the internet courts is formed through measures such as a verifiable electronic signature, trusted timestamping, hash value verification or blockchain(3) and can be verified by tamper-proof technical means or electronic forensics service providers, the internet courts will usually confirm the authenticity of such evidence.(4)
- For evidence that cannot be verified through the aforementioned means, or if the internet courts find it is necessary to examine certain physical objects in the court room as evidence, the internet courts reserve and will exercise the right to hear the case in the conventional way. However, the rest of the proceedings, to the extent possible, will be held online.(5)
For further information on this topic please contact Tim Yimin Liu or Iris Tingting Yang at Global Law Office by telephone (+86 21 2310 8288) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Global Law Office website can be accessed at www.glo.com.cn.
(1) This is the third article in a series about the Chinese judiciary system. For the previous articles, please see "Chinese court system: circuit courts" and "Chinese court system: China International Commercial Court".
(2) Article 1.1, Provisions of the Supreme People's Court on Several Issues Concerning the Hearing of Cases by Internet Courts (最高人民法院关于互联网法院审理案件若干问题的规定, 法释〔2018〕16号), effective from 7 September 2018.
(3) In case (2018)浙0192民初81号, the Hangzhou Internet Court recognised evidence formed through blockchain.
(4) Article 11.2, Provisions on Hearings in Internet Courts.
Luke Zhibo Li, intern, assisted in the preparation of this article.