Reform comes into effect as cases are filed more quickly

Updated: 2015-07-15 07:59

By Cao Yin(China Daily)

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Supreme People's Court May 1 guideline gets underway, and more than 1.13 million lawsuits have been accepted

Lawyer Lin Zhida could not believe that an administrative case he represented was filed within just seven days.

The speedier filing was the result of changes that took effect on May 1, when courts began to adopt simpler procedures under a reform aimed at removing unnecessary legal barriers.

"In the past, a court took about three months to file a straightforward administrative case. For complicated ones, it could take even longer," said Lin, who specializes in administrative disputes for the Zhongwen Law Firm in Beijing.

In April, the Supreme People's Court issued a guideline that required every court to accept appeals without hesitation and reply to litigants in a timely manner.

It was seen as a key step in enforcing judicial reforms raised by the country's leadership in October 2013.

Under the guideline, lawsuits should be accepted as soon as they are registered instead of waiting for a preliminary review to be completed in order to avoid courts refusing to accept lawsuits or ignoring appeals.

A court should decide whether to file a civil or administrative case within seven days and criminal ones within 15 days.

Since the guideline took effect, Chinese courts have registered more than 1.13 million cases, a 29 percent year-on-year increase, according to the Supreme People's Court.

"It has become easier to appeal to courts," said Deng Yong, a lawyer specializing in administrative cases at the Dacheng Law Firm in Beijing. "The filing procedures have been improved thanks to the reform."

Easier access to appeals

Lawyer Lin said justices looked at the procedures for filing lawsuits and how they related to the country's judicial image and credibility.

Before the reform, Lin had to go to a court frequently to find out whether his administrative cases had been accepted, "which always annoyed me", he said.

"But now, I can get at least two clear replies. If everything is OK, the court will accept my registration and the case will be filed immediately. If not, because of procedural shortcomings, the court will provide a document telling me what I should hand in next time," he said.

"The move marks huge progress because it makes the filing and following steps go smoothly."

Deng agreed with him, saying that the registration opens a court's door and shortens its distance from the public. He believes it is a key step for courts to get rid of interference from local government administrations.

"Litigants found it difficult filing a case because local government departments might block it in order to solve a dispute privately," he said.

"The interference made the court afraid to accept the case, and residents had to solve their problems through petition, which damaged the credibility of courts and was not good for alleviating social conflicts," he said.

Now litigants and their lawyers can at least be told whether their appeals are qualified instead of waiting for the review, he said.

He added that it gives confidence to the public that the law protects them and gives courts less of a cold image.

With the guideline in place, Shanghai courts accepted 65,971 cases after they were registered, according to a statistic from Shanghai High People's Court.

Ruan Chuansheng, a lawyer in the city, said it now only takes him 10 minutes to register and file a civil case whereas in the past a civil dispute might take six months.

"I was given a number when I arrived to file cases at a court and within 30 minutes I was called to hand in the materials," Ruan said. "The registration was fast and the court told me my civil case had been filed."

More to do

The flood of cases has become a challenge for many courts where the number of judges are limited, Deng said.

"The rapid increase in the number of cases adds pressure on the decreasing number of judges, some of whom left courts because of low incomes and because they had grown pessimistic," he said.

The easier court access is also used by some attorneys to swindle money out of people whose cases cannot be filed and that makes the registration disordered," he said.

He conceded many complicated cases still need to be reviewed before they are accepted.

"Even though the registration may look great, solving the problem of filing a case thoroughly and totally rooting out interference by local administrations in legal procedures still have some way to go," he added.

To improve efficiency, Jinshui District People's Court, in Henan province, has added another four windows to receive the registrations and asked six more officers to help its department to file cases.

Li Junyang, chief judge responsible for filing cases in Gaoxin District People's Court, in Henan province, said all staff members in his department have to go to work half an hour earlier since it received 2,003 cases in May.

"For sensitive cases we are exploring a new system to register them quickly, but now there is no quick way to file them," Li said.

Cao Weiping, deputy president of Henan Provincial High People's Court, said administrative cases in the province have requested to be heard in a different jurisdiction to avoid local government interference, which means an administrative dispute in Jinshui district will be handled by the court in Gaoxin.

"The move could be extended across the country, but due to unbalanced legal resources and different abilities in hearing a case, it may need more time to fulfill," Deng said.

Reform comes into effect as cases are filed more quickly

Reform comes into effect as cases are filed more quickly

(China Daily 07/15/2015 page5)