The Supreme People's Court of China (the SPC) has recently promulgated two new sets of provisions on court procedures, both of which came into force on 1 January 2007. The first set, the Provisions on Some Time Limits for Handling Enforcement Cases by the People's Courts, provides specific time limits for enforcement. The rules state that enforcement against property should generally take place within six months from the date when a case is put on record. For non-litigious cases the time limit is set at three months. In prescribing time frames for those undertaking the enforcement of cases, these provisions generally encourage more efficient handling of enforcement.
The second set, Several Provisions of the Supreme People's Court on Publicizing the Execution Work, is designed to regulate and increase the transparency of the execution of cases by the People's Courts. One of the ways to accomplish such transparency is through the publication of a notice containing all references and information related to the case. Making a public announcement through the court's network or the media may be another way to achieve transparency except in cases where such publication is prohibited by law. Any such prohibition is likely to occur where information includes secrets that may be considered a threat to national security, or the security of companies involved in the arbitration. Charging standards and the bases for executive expenses will also be publicised.
In addition, the provisions aim to safeguard the parties' rights by keeping the parties informed of the status of execution, any compulsory measures adopted by the courts, appointment of third parties to auction off property, the reasons for any suspension of execution, and the conditions and procedures for application for resumption, as well as other related information.
On 30 December 2006, the State Council published the Measures for Payment of Litigation Costs (the Payment Measures), which came into effect on 1 April 2007. One aim of the Payment Measures is to limit the extent to which courts are allowed to charge fees to the litigating parties. The Payment Measures also set out what costs are payable and the rates for the payment of those costs.
The Payment Measures further confirm the general principle that the losing party shall bear the cost of arbitration, however, this remains subject to various exceptions such as situations where the winning party elects to bear the costs of it's own free will. Other exceptions include scenarios where not all of the issues in a case are decided in favour of a single party, as well as in divorce, mediation or maritime cases.
Parties can also apply for judicial relief if they are unable to pay the litigation costs, and, depending on the party's circumstances, the courts may then agree to delay, reduce or exempt payment.
The Payment Measures apply to all persons participating in litigation before the People's Courts. However, it is worth noting that where a foreign court offers discriminatory treatment between its own citizens, legal persons or organisations and PRC citizens, legal persons or other organisations in respect of the payment of litigation costs, the principle of reciprocity will apply.
Ideally, the SPC's two new sets of provisions and the State Council's Payment Measures will improve access to the courts and make it easier to navigate through PRC civil procedure.