The Machine Justice: Rise of China’s Internet Courts

  • Within one year from its establishment (from August 2017 to August 2018), the Court accepted 12,103 cases and concluded 10,626 cases; more than 88% of cases were filed online and all cases were heard online with the parties’ agreement.
  • Average time of online hearings being 28 minutes and average number of days to conclude a case being 41 days.
  • As of October 31, 2019, Hangzhou Internet Court, Beijing Internet Court, and Guangzhou Internet Court had accepted 118,764 Internet-related cases and concluded 88,401. The rate of online filing (the lawsuits filed via the Internet) was 96.8%, and 80,819 cases concluded were proceeded online throughout the whole process.
  • After the first internet court, two other internet courts were established in Beijing on September 9, 2018 and Guangzhou on September 28, 2018 respectively. Similar to the Hangzhou Internet Court, these two courts serve as the level of basic courts within the jurisdiction of their own cities. The appeal will be dealt with by the intermediate courts or intellectual property courts (for online copyright ownership and infringement cases and domain name dispute cases) within their respective jurisdictions.
  • After the establishment of the other two internet courts in China in 2018, the Supreme People’s Court unified rules on court jurisdiction by issuing the Provisions on Several Issues Concerning the Trial of Cases by Internet Courts.

Types of cases under the internet courts’ jurisdiction include:

  • Online shopping contracts through e-commerce platforms.
  • Network service contracts which are both signed and performed on the internet.
  • Financial loan contracts or small loan contracts which are both signed and performed on the internet.
  • The ownership of the copyrights or neighboring rights of the works published on the internet for the first time.
  • Infringements upon the copyrights or neighboring rights of the works published or disseminated online through the internet.
  • Internet domain name ownership, infringements and contracts.
  • Infringements upon others’ personal rights, property rights and other civil rights and interests on the internet.
  • Product liability disputes by the products purchased through e-commerce platforms due to product defects.
  • Internet public interest litigation cases filed by procuratorial organs.
  • Administrative disputes arising from the administrative actions taken by administrative organs, such as Internet information service management, internet commodity trading, and related service management.
  • Other internet civil and administrative cases the jurisdiction over which is designated by the People’s courts at higher levels.

Highlights of the white paper titled “Chinese Courts and Internet Judiciary”, issued on 4th December 2019 by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC):

1. Internet Courts

  • Hangzhou Internet Court was officially established on August 18th, 2017. Beijing Internet Court and Guangzhou Internet Court were successively established on September 9 and September 28, 2018.
  • Internet courts, designed as primary courts with designated jurisdiction over Internet-related cases, have implemented the new trial mechanism following the approach of “Online Disputes Tried Online”.
  • The centralized jurisdiction covers 11 types of internet-related cases.
  • As of October 31, 2019, Hangzhou Internet Court, Beijing Internet Court, and Guangzhou Internet Court had accepted 118,764 Internet-related cases and concluded 88,401. The rate of online filing (the lawsuits filed via the Internet) was 96.8%, and 80,819 cases concluded were proceeded online throughout the whole process.
  • Compared with the case handling before, on average, it took 45 minutes in an online hearing and 38 days to conclude a case, which respectively saved time by about 3/5 and 1/2. Up to 98% of the parties accepted first-instance judgments and ceased further appeals. It indicates that the judicial quality, efficiency, and effect of Internet courts in a widely recognized condition.

2. One-Stop Diversified Dispute Resolution

  • One-Stop system provides online access to court proceedings, converges complete tracks of dispute resolution, and successfully integrates online and offline services.
  • In October 2016, the SPC launched a unified online mediation platform covering mediation processes from acceptance, classification, resolution to feedback. The platform has multiple functions such as court-annexed mediation before and after filing, and application for court approval.
  • By October 31, 2019, the SPC online mediation platform had assembled services of 2,679 courts, 21,379 professional mediation organizations, and 79,271 mediators, and resolved a total of 1,369,134 cases via mediation. 

3. Online services for the legal profession

  • On December 30, 2015, the SPC officially established an online platform for lawyers. Services provided on this online platform include but not limited to case filing, access to case files, case status inquiry, rescheduling due to time clashes, contact with judges, and e-service of legal documents.

4. Judicial openness

  • As of October 31, 2019, more than 1.1 billion case status information of no less than 22 million cases had disclosed on China Judicial Process Information Online. The court hearing of 5.5 million cases had been broadcasted live on China Court’s Live Trial website, attracting more than 20 billion views.
  • China Judgment Online has published 80 million court decisions and attracted over 37 billion visits from more than 210 countries and regions, which makes the website the world’s largest judicial information database.

5. The rules of online litigation procedures

In September 2018, the SPC issued Regulations on Several Issues Concerning the Trial of Cases by Internet Courts, which established the original jurisdiction of and the appellate jurisdiction over the Internet courts, and clarified the procedural rules for online litigation such as identity authentication, case filing, responding, proofing, hearing, service, signature and archiving, advancing the development of the online litigation system

6. Online preservation and authentication of e-evidence (digital evidence)

  • Aiming at tackling the difficulties in the e-evidence collection, preservation, and authentication, Chinese courts explored to apply the blockchain technology in combination with big data and cloud storage in the judicial process.
  • As of October 31, 2019, courts in 22 provinces had interconnected with national e-evidence platform underpinned by blockchain, which is widely linked to 27 sites including National Time Service Center, Diversified Dispute Resolution platforms, notary offices, and forensic sciences centers.

7. The simultaneous generation system of digital case files

  • The digitization of case files is the foundation and prerequisite of “Smart Court”. Since 2016, the SPC has been attaching great importance to promote the simultaneous generation and in-depth application of digitized files. As of October 31, 2019, 3,363 Chinese courts had built up the digitized files simultaneous generation system, applied in 67% cases. Paper-free has been realized throughout the whole process in judicial activities in some courts.

8. Smart assistant system for case handling

  • Chinese courts have been developing various smart assistant platforms for case handling and administrative works. Smart functions developed under circumstance, such as risk management in case-filing, the identification of case-complexity, text recognition of digitized files, voice-to-text transcription, smart case-element profiling, automatic monitor of misconducts in court hearings, accurate recommendation of related laws and similar cases for reference, automatic generation and correction of judicial documents, warnings of decision-making risk deviation have been applied at various levels

9. Smart supervision and management of judicial operations

  • The SPC founded the enforcement management platform to manage the enforcement units of courts nationwide. The platform provides real-time monitoring of case-handling, judicial cooperation between courts, petitions and complaints, and online opinions based on data from the enforcement and trial systems of courts across the country. 

10. Management and application of judicial big data

  • In July 2014, the SPC officially launched the big data management and service platform of the people’s court (China Justice Big Data Service Platform). It is capable of collecting real-time data of trials and enforcement, judicial administration, and researches from 3,507 courts across the country, automatically updating every five minutes. By October 31, 2019, the platform had collected 193 million cases’ data. More than 700 thematic analysis reports had been conducted, 38 of which had been released to the public.

11. Online cooperative mechanisms for dealing with criminal cases

  • Shanghai courts have developed an inter-departmental supporting IT system for criminal trials, which unifies the evidence rules and ensured criminal procedural activities conducted by the police and the procuratorates to be visible, traceable, and monitorable.
  • This system equips Shanghai courts with cutting-edge technologies such as image recognition, natural language processing, evidence identification and auto-display, and automatic extraction of key case information.
  • A total of 24,873 cases have been registered in this system by the police, 8,811 arrests approved, and 7,442 prosecutions brought up by the procuratorate, 4,812 cases accepted, and 3,483 cases concluded by the court.

12. Legal Rules Governing the Cyberspace

  • Internet-related disputes are characterized as newly emerged categories, wide ranges, cutting-edge technologies, and high complexity. Chinese courts have tried a series of influential cases. Underlined by such, online transaction rules have been clarified, online activities held in order, and the scope of rights defined. Consequently, the legal system governing the Internet has been improved, and the rule of law in cyberspace has been furthered. The white paper published several representative cases and regulations, involving:
    • Online transactions;
    • Legal responsibilities of online platforms;
    • Personality rights in cyberspace;
    • Security of personal data;
    • Legal protection for a healthy and thriving digital economy;
    • Protecting IP rights online;
    • Cybercrimes.

By Vedang R. Vatsa

IT & Management Consultant