Chinese Internet Courts

Author Natural Earth Data
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 unported
Source Wikipedia China

Jane Lambert

There are almost two and a half times as many internet users in China as there are citizens of the USA and some of the biggest e-commerce companies on earth are located in that country. These include Alibaba in HangzhouBaidu in Beijing and Tencent in Guangzhou. A lot of disputes arise anywhere in e-commerce between suppliers and their customers. internet service providers and their subscribers and between different internet users, In China, they can be referred to three specialist internet courts based respectively in Hangzhou, Beijing and Guangzhou.

The first of those courts was established in Hangzhou which has an English language website. According to that website, the court resolves contract disputes arising from online shopping, product liability disputes arising from online shopping, internet service contract disputes, internet loan contracts and online copyright disputes.  The last of these is particularly interesting to me as an IP lawyer. The website explains that "this refers to a dispute involving infringement of information network transmission rights."  There is a link to further information in Mandarin. A machine translation adds:

"Interpretation of legal terms in network copyright disputes
Network copyright disputes are disputes over the infringement of the information network communication rights of works.
Copyright includes personal rights and property rights as stipulated in the Copyright Law: the personal rights of the work include the right to publish, the right to authorship, the right to modify, and the right to protect the integrity of the work.
The property rights of the work include reproduction rights, distribution rights, rental rights, exhibition rights, performance rights, screening rights, broadcasting rights, information network communication rights, filming rights, adaptation rights, translation rights, compilation rights, resale rights, and the copyright owner. Other rights enjoyed.
Neighbouring rights include the rights of the publisher as defined in the Copyright Law, the rights of the performer, the rights of the recorder, and the rights of the player."

According to the China Daily website, the Hangzhou court opened for business on 18 Aug 2017.  In its first year, it received over 11,000 disputes of which 9,600 were resolved (see China first internet court handles over 10,000 cases 18 May 2018 China Daily).

Proceedings take place entirely online.  The judges sit in a studio and watch the parties on a screen who in turn can observe the court and each other on their computers.  The procedure is set out in a jaunty little YouTube video issued by the Beijing Internet Court the gist of which is clear even for those who do not speak a word of Mandarin.  It is amplified in a very interesting article with photographs entitled How to Litigate Before the Internet Courts in China? by Meng Yu and Guodong Du in China Justice Observer. According to Sara Xia, China's highest court, the Supreme Peoples' Court. has made special rules for the internet courts known formally as The Provisions on Several Issues Concerning the Trial of Cases by the Internet Courts on 7 Sept 2018.(see Xia China’s Internet Courts are Spreading; Online Dispute Resolution is Working 23 Dec 2018 China Law Blog).

Compared to the small claims tracks of the County Court or the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court in England, court fees seem to be very low. According to Meng Yu and Guodong Du a claim worth US$1,000 can be filed for US$10 and the court fees for a claim for US$10,000 are only US$200 (see Can I resolve cross-border online shopping disputes through the Chinese Internet Court? 6 April 2019 China Justice Observer). Cases seem to come on for trial very quickly and the average length of a trial is 28 minutes.  That raises the question of whether foreign consumers can use the courts in disputes with Chinese suppliers, service providers or copyright infringers. The answer from Meng Yu and Guodong Du is that there appears to be no reason in principle why they cannot but they will need a Chinese mobile phone for authentication and communication with the court and they will have to cope with proceedings entirely in Chinese.

Electronic commerce companies in the West such as eBay operate online dispute resolution services but these are alternative dispute resolution procedures. Their jurisdiction is founded on the parties' agreement.  By contrast, the Chinese internet courts are real courts with the same power to enforce judgment as any other. The judges hear and determine cases in real time and parties can feel they have had their day in court which they would not under a documents only proceeding.

in all sorts of ways ranging from electric cars to the belt and road infrastructure project, China is shaping the future.  The fast and cost-effective dispensing of civil justice is yet another way. Lawyers and court administrators in the UK and other countries could probably learn something from it.  Anyone wishing to discuss this article should call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours.


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