China Guiding Cases Project

Challenge

China’s relatively low rank in various rule of law indicators, including the WJP Rule of Law Index, reveals that, despite its economic and social developments over the past thirty-five years, much needs to be done to improve the Chinese legal system.  In late 2010, the Supreme People’s Court made a significant change in the Chinese legal system by establishing a procedure to choose and thereafter disseminate a body of “Guiding Cases” (“GCs”) that courts at all levels in China “should refer to”.  The Supreme People’s Court explicitly explains that the system of GCs is to “unify application of law, enhance adjudication quality, and safeguard judicial justice”.  Since this time, comments by senior Chinese judges and the consistent periodic release of batches of GCs across a diverse range of legal areas have shown the potential importance of GCs.  Nevertheless, recent studies including a survey conducted by the China Guiding Cases Project (“CGCP”), show that GCs have not been widely used in practice because of the unfamiliarity of legal actors with the new system, as well as the lack of clarity about the legal status of GCs, and their appropriate methods of application.

Identified as an "expertise support group" by the United Nations Development Program, the CGCP aims to help the system of GCs evolve to play its expected roles, culminating in the development of case-based reasoning in China that will ultimately help safeguard the rule of law.

Program Summary

The objectives of the CGCP are to:

  • Illuminate the significance of the system of GCs for legal actors and the general public both inside and outside China by creating and making available free online products, including high-quality English translations of GCs, commentaries, and summaries of various areas of Chinese law;
  • Train Chinese judges and other legal actors on how to use GCs through partnerships with various stakeholders, including the Supreme People's Court, the National Judges College, local courts, and law firms.

To this end, the CGCP focuses on four activities:

  1. Translations of GCs and Guiding Cases AnalyticsTM : The CGCP has designed a six-stage review process involving its over 100-member team of lawyers, law students, and professionally trained translators from around the world to produce high-quality English translations of GCs, which are published for free on the CGCP website within weeks of their release by the Supreme People’s Court. Such a rigorous review process is unprecedented and worthwhile because every word of a GC and the CGCP’s explanatory footnotes are likely to be read carefully by legal actors and other stakeholders and by the Supreme People’s Court itself, which seeks to improve GCs. To keep English-speaking audiences fully informed of the developments of new GCs in China, the CGCP’s Guiding Cases AnalyticsTM analyzes the trends in the GCs and identifies important issues for further study.  Supplementing the CGCP’s qualitative analysis of GCs, Guiding Cases AnalyticsTM will help deepen the understanding of China’s court system and case law.
  2. Commentaries: The CGCP brings together legal experts from around the world to discuss specifically issues relating to GCs and share insights about how case law is applied in different jurisdictions.  High-quality Chinese and English versions of commentaries written by such experts are prepared to benefit a larger audience and made available for free via the CGCP website. 
  3. Summaries of Selected Areas of Chinese Law: The CGCP also produces summaries of different areas of Chinese law, each of which includes an overview of the particular area of law, historical background, and links to related reference materials including legislation, judicial interpretations, cases and other materials.  Part of the growing database of Chinese legal materials the CGCP is creating, these summaries, among other purposes, help Chinese citizens understand what their fundamental rights are and how to deal with legal issues encountered in their daily lives. 
  4. Judges’ Training Program: The CGCP is developing unique materials on the analysis and application of GCs, which it will utilize during a case-based, videotaped interactive judges’ training on GCs that it is organizing for September 2014. Consisting of background information on GCs and their subsequent developments (e.g., which courts have applied which GCs), hypothetical cases to fuel discussions on how GCs may be applied, and scholarly commentaries on GCs, the training will address the major obstacles to the use of GCs by Chinese judges in adjudication.

Impact

The CGCP benefits all citizens in China as well as foreign parties who are or will be subject to Chinese law. The four CGCP activities described above will keep legal practitioners updated of the developments in Chinese law, especially of GCs, and equip all individuals with more knowledge than ever before about their legal rights.  Even more, the organized and widespread dissemination of this knowledge to those including Chinese judges themselves will encourage consistency in the application of laws in practice and support increased judicial competency and openness in China.  The CGCP’s free products make clear to all stakeholders inside and outside China both the limits existing in the Chinese legal system and areas that need further improvement to support the development of the rule of law within China.

Partners

Partners include: 

  • Stanford Law School
  • Stanford University
  • Supreme People’s Court of China
  • National Judges College

Project Details

Program Status:Active

Program Type:Partner

Region:East Asia & Pacific

Program Countries:China

Rule of Law Index Factors: Constraints on Government Powers (Factor 1), Absence of Corruption (Factor 2), Open Government (Factor 3), Fundamental Rights (Factor 4), Regulatory Enforcement (Factor 6), Civil Justice (Factor 7), and Criminal Justice (Factor 8).

Issue Areas: Education, Government, Human Rights, and Judiciary.