To improve China’s existing mechanisms for jurisdiction escalation and arraignment, the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China (“SPC”) issued the Implementation Measures for the Pilot Program of the Reform of Improving the Trial Levels and Functional Orientations of Courts Structured in a Four-Tier System (“Implementation Measures”) on 27 September 2021. On 28 July 2023, the SPC promulgated a Guideline on Strengthening and Standardizing the Work of Jurisdiction Escalation as well as Retrial and Arraignment (“Guideline”) to further refine and clarify the trial practice rules in terms of jurisdiction escalation, retrial and arraignment based on the four-level court system established in the Implementation Measures. The Guideline consist of 26 articles, which are divided into five chapters including the provisions on improving the mechanism for jurisdiction escalation, standardizing the mechanism for civil and administrative retrial and arraignment, and improving the supporting mechanism for jurisdiction escalation, retrial and arraignment.
According to Articles 1 to 3, courts at all levels are required to hand over instructive cases, that involve major interests, or may be subject to intervention to higher-level courts for trial; the courts above the intermediate level are required to accurately perform their functions of trial-level supervision and retrial error correction; and the SPC is required to focus on arraignment typical cases that have guiding significance for the general application of the law or have major differences in the application of the law. In the Guideline, jurisdiction escalation refers to a higher-level court elevating the jurisdiction of a first-instance case under the jurisdiction of a lower-level court upon the request of the lower-level court or ex officio; retrial and arraignment refer to a higher-level court hearing a civil or administrative judgment or ruling of a lower-level court that has taken legal effect upon ex officio or the parties’ application, or the SPC hears such a judgment or ruling upon the request of a high court. The provisions in terms of the former apply to the criminal, civil and administrative fields, but these in terms of the latter do not apply to the criminal field.
Articles 4 to 14 constitute Chapter II of Improving the Mechanism for Jurisdiction Escalation. First of all, it stipulates the following six types of specific situations where a case is eligible to be transferred to a higher-level court and related criteria for determination: 1. Cases involving major national interests or social public interests.2. Cases of a new type in the jurisdiction with complicated circumstances. Such type of cases must be a type of first occurrence or relatively rare in terms of the field involved, legal relationship, regulatory scope, etc. in the jurisdiction. In addition, there are difficulties and disputes in the application of the law.3. Cases that can form exemplary judgments and promote the unified, efficient and proper resolution of similar disputes by establishing adjudication rules based on their value of demonstration and guidance. 4. Cases with guiding significance for the application of the law under situations where the application of the law needs to be further clarified through the adjudication of typical cases because there are no clear provisions in laws, regulations, judicial interpretations, judicial guidance documents, etc., or it will violate fairness and justice to continue to apply relevant rules because significant changes have taken place.5. There are major differences in the application of the law between similar cases judged by a higher-level court or those judged by the lower-level courts within the jurisdiction in the past three years.6. The first-instance cases should not be heard by a lower-level court as the impartiality of judgment may be disturbed by external local factors.
Secondly, this Chapter clarifies the approval procedures, review subjects, time limit requirements, and handling methods for jurisdiction escalation. For civil and administrative first-instance cases, a lower-level court shall apply for transferring the case to a higher-level court within the period from the expiration of the parties’ defense period to 30 days before the expiration of the statutory trial period of the case. For criminal cases of first instance, the deadline for such an application by a lower-level court is 15 days before the expiration of the statutory trial period of the case. The higher-level court shall complete its review within 30 days by issuing a legal document agreeing or not agreeing to the application.
Chapter III of Standardizing the Mechanism for Civil and Administrative Retrial and Arraignment, including Articles 15 to 20, involves the general requirements for retrial and arraignment, six types of special circumstances that the SPC should arraign, and the circumstances, procedures and trial limits for the retrial and arraignment required by high courts.
Following Article 15, unless otherwise stipulated in the judicial interpretation, a higher-level court may generally order a lower-level court or designate another court at the same level as the lower-level court to retry the legally effective civil or administrative judgments and rulings of the lower-level court under the circumstances where the main evidence for the determination of the facts in the original judgment or ruling has not been cross-examined; the court fails to collect the main evidence needed for the trial of the case based on an application of the party concerned in writing because it could not collect it by itself; the party’s right to debate was illegally deprived; the legally effective judgment or ruling was made by the court of first instance; civil cases where one party is numerous or both parties are citizens, or other circumstances discussed and decided by the adjudication committee.
Article 16 clearly states that in addition to the circumstances that laws and judicial interpretations stipulate that a trial should be carried out, the SPC shall rule for an arraignment under six types of cases such as cases having significant influence throughout the country; cases having guiding significance for the general application of laws throughout the country; cases involving significant differences in the application of the law within the SPC; cases involving significant differences in the application of the law with similar cases with effect judgments of the different high courts; the SPC’s arraignment contributes to fairness of verdict; or other cases that the SPC deems should be arraigned.
Chapter IV of Improving the Supporting Mechanism for Jurisdiction Escalation, Retrial and Arraignment include Articles 21 to 24. It clarified that a higher-level court may actively discover cases that need to be transferred to it for trial or enter a retrial when handling requests for instructions from a lower-level court on issues concerning the application of the law; carrying out judicial supervision, judicial inspection, and case evaluation; handling procuratorial supervision opinions; handling issues concerned by the deputies to the People’s Congress or members of the Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative; handling letters or visits from the masses involving specific cases; handling the parties’ requests for escalation of jurisdiction or retrial; carrying out case public opinion monitoring; handling other matters transferred by relevant state agencies and social organizations.
In conclusion, the Guideline, which has come into effect since 1 August 2023, clarified in detail the scope of application, specific circumstances, judgment standards, operating procedures, and guarantee mechanisms for the work of jurisdiction escalation as well as retrial and arraignment. In addition, it formulated 22 styles of litigation documents to cooperate with its implementation.