Yang Wanming's speech at the Fourth China-Singapore Legal and Judicial Roundtable
Roles of Guiding Case System and Similar Case Search System in Unifying the Application of Law in China's Judicial Practices
Speech at the Fourth China-Singapore Legal and Judicial Roundtable
By Yang Wanming, Justice, Vice-President of the Supreme People’s Court
(November 30, 2020)
Honorable Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, honorable Chief Justice Zhou Qiang,
Dear colleagues, guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It's my honor to join the Fourth China-Singapore Legal and Judicial Roundtable today and to discuss with the honorable justices on the topic of "how to unify the application of law by Guiding Case System, Similar Case Search System, and System of Precedent". The previous speeches are very insightful and inspiring. Now, please allow me to give an introduction to the unification of application of laws by the Supreme People's Court of China (SPC).
Unifying the application of law is an inherent requirement of fair justice and an important task of strict justice. Applying laws equally and uniformly is the basic duty of the people's courts, and it is also highly significant for improving social equity and justice, building and improving the socialist rule of law system with Chinese characteristics, as well as maintaining the unity, dignity and authority of the legal system. As a country with a vast territory and a large population, China has attached great importance to unifying application of law since ancient times. The "Case Study Compilation " (Jueshibi) in the Han Dynasty and the "Case System" (Cheng'an) in the Ming and Qing dynasties were both designed to solve this problem. With the deepening of reform in judicial accountability system and the comprehensive reform of the judicial system, in order to modernize the trial system and trial capability, the SPC has made it a prioritized task to unify the standard of legal application, to actively build up relevant mechanisms and to fully guarantee the impartial exercise of judicial power according to law.
In recent years, focusing on the goal of "letting the people feel fairness and justice in every judicial case", and keeping to the core principles of "for the benefit of the people and administering justice impartially", the SPC has deepened the judicial system reform and constructed smart courts, given full play to judicial interpretations and guiding cases, explored ways to implement the mandatory search system for similar and related cases, upgraded the platform of judgment rules, established a resolution mechanism for legal application difference, improved the working mechanism of the courts' Adjudication Committee, enforced the intelligent push notification of similar cases and the early warning of judgment deviation, promoted the unification of trial criteria. To strengthen the unification of the application of law, the SPC issued the "Opinions on Improving the Working Mechanism for Unifying the Application of Law" (hereinafter referred to as "the Opinions"), which aims to integrate the uniform criteria for legal application into the overall trial process of the people's courts. The Opinions make comprehensive provisions on improving the basis of rules and the difference resolution mechanism, guiding the trial organization, trial management and supervision, retrieving similar cases as well as the scientific and technological support, and talent development. The Opinions also systematically sort out the working mechanisms on unifying the application of law by the people's courts. The Opinions have played an important role to modernize the trial system and the trial capability, and have been highly acclaimed by the public.
Next, I will specifically introduce the experiences and practices of courts in China on unifying the application of law through guiding case system and similar case search system.
I. The SPC issues guiding cases at irregular intervals to provide reference for the trial of new-type and complicated cases
According to the "Opinions on Regulating the Trial Work Relations between the People's Courts at Different Levels" (No.61  of the SPC) issued by the SPC, the SPC guides the judicial work of people's courts at various levels and specialized courts by means of hearing cases, formulating judicial interpretations or regulatory documents, issuing guiding cases, holding trial work meetings, organizing judge trainings, etc.. With the reform and improvement of the judicial system, the guiding case system has gradually developed into a parallel approach with judicial interpretations by the SPC to guide China's trial work.
On November 26, 2010, the SPC issued the "Provisions on Case Guidance", and in May 2015, the SPC furthermore issued its Implementing Rules, which marks the establishment and progress of China's Guiding Case System. Since the issuance of the first batch of guiding cases in December 2011, the SPC has successively issued 25 batches of 143 guiding cases, including 93 civil and enforcement cases, 22 criminal cases, 23 administrative cases and 5 state compensation cases. The Guiding Case System is essential for timely summarizing trial experience, unifying the application of law, regulating the discretion of judges, and enhancing judges' trial quality and capability.
In unifying the criteria of legal application, the Guiding Case System has the following features: Firstly, the selection has special requirements. The guiding cases issued by the SPC are different from other forms of cases. The guiding cases shall be instructive to the trial and enforcement work of people's courts at various levels. To be specific, they include the following: cases where there are different understandings and disputes regarding the application of law, cases where the relatively abstract legal provisions can be supplemented and refined, new types of cases or cases that have guiding significance for applying newly promulgated laws, cases that address legal issues with wide social attention, respond to people's general concerns and help promote socialist core values, and cases that have a leading role in unifying the application of law and safeguarding judicial justice. Secondly, the selection procedure is specially stipulated. The guiding cases have its strict compilation and issuance procedures. After cases are submitted to the SPC from people's courts at various levels and other relevant institutions, they shall go through the preliminary examination, re-examination, solicitation of opinions before submitted to the SPC Adjudication Committee for consideration and approval. They are eventually issued by the SPC in the form of an official document. It can be seen that the procedure of issuing guiding cases is similar to that of issuing judicial interpretations. The strict procedural mechanism guarantees that the guiding cases are rigorous, authoritative and effective. Thirdly, the force of reference and application is clearly regulated. China's Guiding Case System is different from the precedents under common law. The guiding cases have not been clearly defined as a formal source of law and cannot be directly invoked in judgments. Their effectiveness is mainly manifested in their in facto binding force. However, the Guiding Case System requires that people's courts at various levels refer to the guiding cases when trying similar cases, use the guiding cases for reasoning in the judgments, and clearly write the number of and the key points of the guiding cases. If the party in the defense opinion suggests that a certain guiding case be referred to or not be referred to, the judge shall make response in the reasoning of the adjudication.
II. The Similar Case Search System is implemented in the people's courts at various levels, and the use of science and technology is enhanced to unify the legal application criteria
The SPC has always attached great importance to deploy information technology. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Chinese people's courts have realized the normal operation of trial and enforcement work relying on the advantage of information technology, which has aroused the attention of the international community and has been welcomed by our people. During the prevention and control of COVID-19, General Secretary Xi Jinping gave a series of important instructions. He emphasized that scientific and technological innovation can play an important role in the overall epidemic prevention and control as well as economic and social development, which pointed out the direction for the people's courts to further integrate the scientific and technological innovations into the trial work. Enhancing the scientific and technological support and talent guarantees for unifying the application of law is an inevitable requirement to ensure judicial justice, efficiency and authority, and to modernize the trial system and trial capabilities.
The Similar Case Search System has two features in terms of unifying the application of law: the first one is that the search mechanism of similar and related cases is mandatory. To ensure that guiding cases and other cases play a substantive role, the SPC links the mandatory search for similar cases with the judicial accountability system, and requires to establish the mandatory mechanism of retrieving similar and related cases on the basis of improving the mechanisms of reference to similar cases and adjudication guidelines. According to the mechanism, firstly, when handling a case, the judges shall use such search platforms as the case handling platform, the file system, China Judgments Online, Faxin(Chinese Law Application Online Platform), the smart trial system, etc. to conduct a comprehensive search for similar and related cases that have been concluded or are being tried, and to produce a search report. When a case is submitted to a collegiate bench for discussion, the judge shall propose his opinion on the basis of explaining the case search results. When submitting a case to the Adjudication Committee for consideration, the collegiate bench shall report the search results for similar and related cases. Secondly, according to different search results, the judges shall follow different procedures to handle the case: if the judgment to be made has a consistent criteria with the similar cases, the judge may directly adjudicate the case; if it is a new type of case and a new judgment criteria will be formed, the case shall be submitted to the judge meeting for discussion, and the president of the court or the chief judge of the division shall decide or recommend it to the Adjudication Committee for consideration; if the judgment may change the criteria of the similar cases, and if the judgment to be made is significantly different from that of the similar cases, it shall be submitted to the Adjudication Committee for consideration after going through relevant procedures. Thirdly, the President of the court and the Chief Judge of a division shall be entitled to limited power of supervision and management. If they find that the judgment to be made may conflict with the judgments of similar cases, he/she has the right to request the sole judge or the collegiate bench to report the progress of the case and the discussion result.
The second feature is that the information technology is highlighted to make the search for similar and related cases more accurate. In recent years, people's courts in China have taken the strategic opportunity of the new round of scientific and technological revolution to construct China into a scientific and technological power, a network power and a digital power, and made every effort to build smart courts. The judges may handle cases through the online system. The SPC has developed the "smart trial system", and made the case files documented, digital and structured. The smart trial system may, to some extent, intelligently provide possible similar cases based on the needs of judges. Some people's courts have developed an early warning system of "judgment difference between similar cases". The system can automatically analyze the indictments and trial records, extract case information and pre-judge the penalty. The judge can calculate the degree of judgment result deviation and the system will automatically give early warnings. The system had a warning accuracy rate of above 90% during the trial, showing a good application prospect. In June of this year, the SPC specially issued the "Guiding Opinions on Unifying the Application of Law and Strengthening the Search for Similar Cases (Trial Implementation)". On the basis of summarizing the experience of people's courts at various levels, the SPC further improved the search mechanism of similar cases, and proposed specific instructions on the definition of similar cases, the applicable circumstances of mandatory search for similar cases, the search platform, the search scope and order, the use of results, the judges' response and the solution to the difference in legal application. This has helped regulate the exercise of judges' jurisdiction and unify the application of law. In addition, the SPC in recent years has strengthened the training of judicial personnel's ability to apply the law, as well as the ability to interpret the law, analyze cases, search for similar cases and apply technologies related to unifying the application of law. This can enhance the judges' ability to search for similar cases proficiently with information technology tools.
Honorable Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, honorable Chief Justice Zhou Qiang, dear guests, ladies and gentlemen, the rule of law is the fruit of human civilization. The statutory law, case law and other legal traditions jointly promote the progress of human civilization in their own way. It is an integration and mutual learning result of different legal traditions to apply the systems of case guidance and search for similar cases in China to promote the unification of legal application. In the future, we hope to continue our in-depth discussions with the courts of Singapore on this issue and achieve judicial progress both in China and Singapore. Thank you!