Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, China's top court has been working on legal documents and calling for the wide application of online platforms in judicial work to ensure the quality and efficiency of foreign-related case hearings, a chief judge of the court said.
"The pandemic, which is still affecting the world, has brought difficulties to litigants at home and abroad as well as to our trials involving foreigners," Wang Shumei, head of the No 4 Civil Division at the Supreme People's Court, said on the sidelines of the two sessions, the annual gatherings of China's top legislature and top political advisory body.
Wang said difficulties in handling foreign-related civil and commercial disputes could last half a year or longer, but the top court has started researching solutions such as issuing judicial interpretations, drafting guidelines and disclosing typical cases for reference.
"Take the guidelines that are being drafted as an example. The amount of time that should be extended for overseas litigants when submitting case materials to Chinese courts during the outbreak will be clarified soon," she said, adding that the top court will make it more convenient for those involved in lawsuits during the pandemic.
The work report the Supreme People's Court delivered to the annual meeting of the National People's Congress last year showed that courts across the country increased international communication on the rule of law and resolved many lawsuits involving foreigners with fair and efficient legal services. The court's resolution methods are expected to be elaborated on again in this year's work report, which will be delivered on Monday afternoon.
Statistics provided by the top court showed that courts nationwide concluded 17,000 civil and commercial disputes involving foreign litigants last year, about 2,000 more than in 2018.
With higher demand for dispute resolution from litigants doing international business, "the number of foreign-related cases heard by our courts has kept rising," Wang said.
Foreign litigants involved in such disputes last year came from countries including the United States, Vietnam and Canada. The disputes mainly dealt with private loans, divorces, trademark infringements and purchase contracts, Wang said.
"As equal protection has been made a top priority in hearing such cases, we've also taken measures to ensure foreign litigants can be given easier, fair and professional access to litigation," she said.
In June 2018, two international commercial courts tasked with helping to resolve disputes related to the Belt and Road Initiative and improving the global credibility of the judiciary opened in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, and Xi'an, Shaanxi province. Later, an expert committee was established as the two courts' dispute resolution think tank.
Thirteen judges and 31 experts in the two courts have filed 13 international commercial disputes in various fields, including product liability, corporate profit distribution and entrustment contracts, with litigants from countries such as Japan and Italy.
In December, the top court issued a judicial interpretation of the Foreign Investment Law as a crucial step to help the country attract more foreign investment, create a sound business environment for foreign investors and better protect their rights.
The law and the interpretation both took effect from the beginning of this year, "but their roles in solving foreign-related civil and commercial disputes haven't been played because of the pandemic," Wang said.
Since there is no clear answer on when the outbreak will end, she encouraged courts to make full use of the internet and technical platforms to improve judicial efficiency, suggesting that they hear simple foreign-related disputes and supply legal services online to reduce the litigation burden of people from other countries.