China’s Supreme People’s Court (“SPC“) on November 21, 2013 issued a new regulation “Provisions on the Online Issuance of Judgment Documents by People’s Courts,” (Fa Shi  No. 26) (“Provisions“), effective since January 1, 2014, requiring that all court judgments in China be published online in a searchable public database specially set up for that purpose.
Judicial Transparency and Independence
Under the Provisions, formulated with the aim to ensure the public’s right to information, participation, and supervision relating to judicial proceedings, all judgment documents from People’s Courts at all levels (more than 3,000 across China) are required to be submitted to relevant authorities for online publication within seven days of their effective date, and, aside from some exceptions, the judgments must include the parties’ real names.
Personal Privacy Protections
The Provisions also have set out exceptions for cases involving state secrets or personal privacy, crimes involving minors, settlements reached through mediation, and certain other cases that are not suitable for online release.
In addition, the Provisions provide that real names of the parties generally should be retained to meet the needs of public access to information, except for some specific cases set out under Article VI:
- the names of parties in marriage and family law cases and inheritance disputes;
- the names of victims, witnesses, and expert witnesses in criminal cases; and
- the names of defendants in criminal cases who are sentenced to three years or less and are not habitual offenders.
These rules are formulated to balance the public’s right to know against the protection of personal privacy. On this point, Article VII further requires that the following information within the judgment documents should be deleted:
- a natural person’s home address, communication, identity card number, bank account number, health status, and other personal information;
- relevant information about minors;
- bank account information of legal persons or other organizations;
- trade secrets; and
- other inappropriate disclosures.
Except for the deletion of items and information listed above, the judgments published online shall be equivalent to the version served on the parties concerned. Once posted, the judgments should not be changed, replaced, or withdrawn, subject to certain technical or legal reasons.
In sum, the Provisions indicate a critical improvement in China in terms of both independence and transparency of the judiciary and the protection of personal privacy.
More Information Is Available
For Fa Shi  No. 26, “Provisions on the Online Issuance of Judgment Documents by People’s Courts,” in Chinese, click here.
For The Supreme People’s Court Q&A, in Chinese, click here.
For The Supreme People’s Court’s website for judicial opinions, click here.