08 May 2013

Translation: SPC Directive on Handling Suits Related to Internet "Management"

Several days ago, I came across this interesting document via a weibo post by Beijing lawyer Zhou Ze. Dating from 2009, it is an internal directive from the Supreme People's Court instructing lower courts on how to handle lawsuits arising from Internet "management" (which, if it wasn't already clear, is a euphemism for censorship).

I think this directive is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it exemplifies the way in which Chinese courts are in many respects more administrative bodies than they are judicial bodies. Rather than having individual courts exercise discretion over whether or not a suit merits adjudication, the central court sets (non-public) rules essentially prohibiting all suits related to censorship that lower courts are expected to follow.

The directive also shows how, particularly under the leadership of the previous SPC president, Wang Shengjun, a political calculus can often decide what cases are heard and how cases are decided. The concern for achieving "unity in legal, social, and political results" and "negative social impact" is illustrative in this regard.

A third thing I find interesting about this document is the way it reveals just how many layers of oversight, guidance, and coordination Chinese courts are subject to. In sensitive cases like these, courts are expected to report upwards to a higher-level court as soon as the case is filed and maintain close contact with both the local party committee and its political-legal committee. Coordination with "relevant authorities" is also needed to "work with" (a better translation might be "work on") the suit-filer, presumably to convince him or her to drop the suit or work out some other kind of resolution.

As Zhou Ze put in his weibo post, making reference to recent comments by new SPC president Zhou Qiang about the need to increase public confidence in the judicial system: “If such places are allowed to continue to exist outside of the law and members of the public have no place to turn to protect their rights, boosting confidence in the legal system is idiotic nonsense.”


Notice Regarding Case-Filing Review Work in
Cases Involving Internet Management

In the interest of properly carrying out case-filing review work in cases involving Internet management from this day on, we are issuing the following notice regarding related questions:

I. Scope of Cases Involving Internet Management 

Cases involving Internet management include civil and administrative disputes that arise from Internet management. Civil disputes primarily take the form of disputes arising from the deletion of the deletion, pursuant to a request by a relevant management authority, of the suit-filer’s document, comment, or web page or closure, pursuant to a request by a relevant management authority, of the suit-filer’s blog, forum, chat forum, or website. The majority of those filing suit do so on the grounds that he or she established a contract for Internet service with a website and the web site unilaterally deleted documents or closed a website without his or her agreement or giving notice. Administrative disputes primarily take the form of a suit filed because the suit-filer does not agree with the administrative penalty decision or punitive action made by a relevant management authority to delete an article or comment posted on the Internet by the suit-filer or to close the suit-filer’s blog or website.

II. Basic Requirements for Case-Filing Review of Cases Involving Internet Management 

(1) Uphold the principle of filing cases appropriately and in accordance with the law, in order to achieve unity in legal, social, and political results. Do not accept suits involving Internet management and do not issue court documents. With respect to other civil disputes concerning the Internet, when review finds that the suit meets statutory conditions for accepting the case, the case may be accepted with discretion after first making an effort to thoroughly understand the background of the case, assess the social impact, and understand the issues involved and getting permission from the court above.

(2) When courts at all levels, including detached tribunals at the grassroots level, receive suits involving internet management, they must immediately report upward to the SPC and also report the situation to the local party committee and political-legal committee. Each higher-level [i.e., provincial] court must properly carry out case-filing guidance and lawsuit-information transmission for these types of cases in its jurisdiction.

(3) When handling problems regarding suits related to Internet management, courts must proactively seek the support of the local party committee and political-legal committee and coordinate with the relevant authorities to “work with” the parties to the case in order to avoid creating a negative impact. Unauthorized public comment is prohibited.

Supreme People’s Court of the PRC 
July 13, 2009


关于涉及互联网管理案件立案审查工作的通知

为做好今后涉及互联网管理案件的立案审查工作,现就有关问题通知如下:

一、涉及互联网管理案件范围

涉及互联网管理案件包括因网络管理引发的民事纠纷和行政纠纷。民事纠纷主要表现为因网站根据有关管理部门要求,删除起诉人发表在网络上的文章、言论以及网页等,或者关闭起诉人的博客、论坛、贴吧、网站等引发的纠纷。起诉人大多以其与网站建立网络服务合同,网站未经其同意或未通知本人单方删除文章、关闭网站为由提起诉讼。行政纠纷主要表现为起诉人不服相关管理部门删除起诉人发表在网络上的文章、言论或者关闭起诉人的博客、网站等行政处罚决定或者处罚行为而提起的诉讼。

二、对于涉及互联网管理案件立案审查基本要求

(一)坚持依法稳妥的立案工作原则,实现立案工作法律效果、社会效果和政治效果的统一。对于涉及互联网管理的案件不予受理、不出具法律文书;对于其他涉网络民事纠纷,经审查符合法定受理条件的,要充分了解案件背景、预测社会影响和涉及的问题,报经上级法院同意后予以慎重受理。

(二)各级法院,包括基层法院的派出法庭接到涉及互联网管理的起诉,要立即层报报告我院,同时向当地党委、政法委汇报情况。各高级法院要做好本辖区此类案件的立案指导工作和起诉信息接送工作。

(三)在处理涉及互联网管理的起诉问题时,要积极争取当地党委、政法委支持,协调相关部门共同做好当事人的工作,避免产生负面影响,并不得擅自对外表态。

中华人民共和国最高人民法院
二〇〇九年七月十三日 

SPC Directive image

1 comment:

  1. I wrote about this memo in August of last year as well. Curious to hear reader thoughts: http://www.tealeafnation.com/2012/08/will-chinese-courts-refuse-to-accept-suits-involving-internet-censorship/

    -David Wertime

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