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The China Law Center Co-Sponsors Workshop and Training on Judicial Precedent in Jiangsu Province

From July 19 to July 21, the China Law Center co-sponsored a workshop and training on the application of judicial precedent in Jiangsu Province with the Jiangsu Judicial Training Institute, the Jiangsu High People’s Court, and Renmin University Law School.  These programs were held in Nanjing and Suzhou and brought together judges from Jiangsu, led by Jiangsu High People’s Court President Gong Pixiang and Li Ying, Dean of the Judicial Training Institute; leading professors from Renmin University Law School, including Dean Wang Liming, Vice-Dean Long Yifei, and Professor Zhang Zhiming; and an international expert team that included Chief Judge Jan Alvå of the District Court in Lund, Sweden, Judge Mark Kravitz of the U.S. District Court in New Haven, Connecticut, Professor Albert Chen of the Faculty of Law at Hong Kong University, and Daniel Halberstam, Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and director of Michigan’s European Legal Studies Program.

China is a civil law system and thus does not recognize judicial precedents as binding in later cases.  Nevertheless, in its most recent Five Year Reform Plan, the Supreme People’s Court identified as a priority the development of a “case guidance” system in China.  The goal of this effort is to increase uniformity in judicial decision-making, reduce the number of cases brought to court by increasing predictability, and enhance the quality of the judiciary.  Chinese scholars and judicial officials are now grappling with the issue of how to construct a case guidance system consistent with China’s civil law traditions and legal structure.  In this context, leading local courts such as the Jiangsu High Court have begun to experiment with publishing non-binding judicial precedents.  In 2003, Jiangsu established a system of “reference cases” to guide the work of lower courts and issued guidelines for the selection, editing, and distribution of such cases.  On the basis of these reform trends and discussions, the Jiangsu High Court invited the China Law Center and Renmin University Law School to cooperate on a program to discuss the reference case system and to help Jiangsu judges better understand how civil and common law judges apply judicial precedents in practice. 

        U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz explains the application of
                   precedent in the United States to Jiangsu judges.

The program began with a workshop on July 19 at the Jiangsu Judicial Training Institute in Nanjing.  A group of approximately twenty Jiangsu High Court judges attended this initial workshop, which evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of Jiangsu’s reference case system, plans for expanding the system, and the role and function of reference cases in Jiangsu’s judicial reform effort.  After Jiangsu judges introduced the reference case system and issues they were struggling with, Renmin University scholars and the international expert team provided commentary on the system and answered questions about how precedent is applied in jurisdictions outside of China.  The Jiangsu judges noted that at present, around 10 reference cases are selected, edited, and distributed to courts across the province on a monthly basis in a periodical entitled “Cases for Reference”.  In some cases, a description of the precedent (but not the full text) may be published in the mass media.  Although reference cases are provided to local lawyers associations, the status of the reference cases as public material has yet to be fully resolved and at present, not all cases are made available to the public at large in a systematic fashion.  The international expert team praised advances that Jiangsu had made with its reference case system and noted that the cases were an effective tool for training lower-court judges.  The experts also noted, however, that to fully achieve the functions of a precedent system and Jiangsu’s specific goals for the system, Jiangsu should consider increasing the number of reference cases and making them readily available to the public on the Internet and through other sources.  The expert team also encouraged lawyers to take an active role in bringing relevant reference cases to the attention of the Jiangsu court and suggested that Jiangsu judges might consider encouraging lawyers to do so.
Following the workshop in Nanjing, leading Jiangsu judges accompanied the Renmin University and international expert teams to Suzhou for a two-day judicial training on July 20 and 21.  This training session, held at the newly built Suzhou Dushu Lake Library, brought together more than fifty intermediate and lower court judges from across Jiangsu.  In Suzhou, the international experts gave presentations on the function and goals of a system of judicial precedent, the practice of applying precedents, the role of legal professionals in locating relevant precedents, and research systems.  These presentations included civil and common law perspectives from the United States, Sweden, Germany and Hong Kong.  Renmin University scholars then discussed how these foreign practices might be applied in China.  Following the presentations, the Jiangsu judges engaged in a lively exchange with the expert team, sharing their experiences as lower-level judges within Jiangsu’s court system and posing many questions about how precedent is applied in foreign jurisdictions.  The Jiangsu judges expressed confidence that the role of the case reference system, and public access to the system, would be expanded in the immediate future.

             Jiangsu judges attend the judicial training seminar in Suzhou

The July workshop and training was the China Law Center’s first cooperative project in Jiangsu Province.   For Chinese coverage of the workshop, see the People’s Daily, Xinhua, the Legal Daily,  the People’s Court Daily, the Suzhou Industrial Park Website, the Suzhou News Network, the Suzhou Education Network, and the Procuratorial Daily.