According to constitution, the court system is to exercise judicial power independently and free of interference from administrative organs, public organizations, and individuals. Though the Party's Political and Legal Affairs Commissions set up to coordinate political and legal affairs have some influence over the court system.
According to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China of 1982 and the Organic Law of the People's Courts that went into effect on January 1, 1980, the Chinese courts are divided into a four-level court system (Supreme, High, Intermediate and Basic):
Candidates for judgeship must pass the National Judicial Examination.
The court system is paralleled by a hierarchy of prosecuting offices called people's procuratorates, the highest being the Supreme People's Procuratorate.
The Supreme Court is responsible for establishing and monitoring legal procedures in adherence to the laws and orders made by the legislative organs.
Following civil law traditions, the courts does not establish legally-binding precedent. The Supreme Court has the right to publish legal explanations of laws which are legally-binding but the right to interpret the constitution is reserved by the legislative organs. A verdict made by an inferior court can be challenged in its superior court, up to the Supreme Court, there are four levels of courts in total. A superior court can also designate any of its inferior courts to hear an appeal rather than do so itself.
Besides the court system, it is also encouraged to resolve civil conflicts through a state-sponsored and -regulated mediation and arbitration system. After the first hearing of a civil case, the court is required by law to ask both parties if they are willing to resolve their conflict through a mediation, if agreed, the court should assign a mediator and oversee the process, if both parties reach an agreement, it will be legal-binding after the agreement is reviewed and documented by a judge of the court.
The enforceability of a civil verdict has long been an issue and has damaged the people's trust in the legal system. The Supreme People's Court has since then established a system to forbid debtors who fail to honor civil verdict from luxurious spending including luxurious hotel spending, flights and bullet train, though there are controversies as to if this gives the court too much authority.
Basic level people's court can hear most criminal cases except for crimes that carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment, and when involves national security and terrorism, which should be heard at an intermediate people's court at least.
Between the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957 and the legal reforms of 1979, the courts—viewed by the leftists as troublesome and unreliable—played only a small role in the judicial system. Most of their functions were handled by other party or government organs. In 1979, however, the National People's Congress began the process of restoring the judicial system. The world was able to see an early example of this reinstituted system in action in the showcase trial of the Gang of Four and six other members of the "Lin-Jiang clique" from November 1980 to January 1981 (see the Four Modernizations). The trial, which was publicized to show that China had restored a legal system that made all citizens equal before the law, actually appeared to many foreign observers to be more a political than a legal exercise. Nevertheless, it was intended to show that China was committed to restoring a judicial system.
The Ministry of Justice, abolished in 1959, was re-established under the 1979 legal reforms to administer the newly restored judicial system. With the support of local judicial departments and bureaus, the ministry was charged with supervising personnel management, training, and funding for the courts and associated organizations and was given responsibility for overseeing legal research and exchanges with foreign judicial bodies.
The 1980 Organic Law of the People's Courts (revised in 1983) and the 1982 State Constitution established four levels of courts in the general administrative structure. Judges are elected or appointed by people's congresses at the corresponding levels to serve a maximum of two five-year terms. Most trials are administered by a collegial bench made up of one to three judges and three to five assessors. Assessors, according to the State Constitution, are elected by local residents or people's congresses from among citizens over twenty-three years of age with political rights or are appointed by the court for their expertise. Trials are conducted by the inquisitorial system, in which both judges and assessors play an active part in the questioning of all witnesses. (This contrasts with the adversarial system, in which the judge is meant to be an impartial referee between two contending attorneys.) After the judge and assessors rule on a case, they pass sentence. An aggrieved party can appeal to the next higher court.
The Organic Law of the People's Courts requires that adjudication committees be established for courts at every level. The committees usually are made up of the president, vice presidents, chief judges, and associate chief judges of the court, who are appointed and removed by the standing committees of the people's congresses at the corresponding level. The adjudication committees are charged with reviewing major cases to find errors in determination of facts or application of law and to determine if a chief judge should withdraw from a case. If a case is submitted to the adjudication committee, the court is bound by its decision. The Supreme People's Court stands at the apex of the judicial structure. Located in Beijing, it has jurisdiction over all lower and special courts, for which it serves as the ultimate appellate court. It is directly responsible to the National People's Congress Standing Committee, which elects the court president.
China also has 'special' military, rail transport, water transport, and forestry courts. These courts hear cases of counter-revolutionary activity, plundering, bribery, sabotage, or indifference to duty that result in severe damage to military facilities, work place, or government property or threaten the safety of soldiers or workers.
Military courts make up the largest group of special courts and try all treason and espionage cases. Although they are independent of civilian courts and directly subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense, military court decisions are reviewed by the Supreme People's Court. Special military courts were first established in 1954 to protect the special interests of all commanders, political commissars, and soldiers, but they ceased to function during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Military courts and procuratorates were reinstituted in October 1978, and open military trials resumed in December of that year.
In April 1986, at the Fourth Session of the Sixth National People's Congress, the General Principles of the Civil Code was approved as "one of China's basic laws." Consisting of more than 150 articles, the code was intended to regulate China's internal and external economic relations to establish a stable base conducive to trade and attractive to foreign investors. Many of its provisions define the legal status of economic entities and the property rights they exercise. The code clearly stipulated that private ownership of the means of production is protected by law and may not be seized or interfered with by any person or organization. It also recognizes partnerships and wholly foreign-owned or joint-venture enterprises.
In March 2011, China's parliament enacted a revised Criminal Procedure Law which prohibited self-incrimination, allowed for the suppression of illegally obtained evidence, and ensured prompt trials for suspects. The State Council's 2012 white paper on judicial reform, unlike previous papers, does not mention the subordination of the judicial system to "the leadership of" the Communist Party of China (CPC), and replaces mentions of "the CPC" in other places with "China".
A basic people's court (simplified Chinese: 基层人民法院; traditional Chinese: 基層人民法院; pinyin: Jīcéng Rénmín Fǎyuàn) is a lowest level court in the Courts of General Jurisdiction in the People's Republic of China. According to the Organic Law of the People's Courts of the People's Republic of China, the basic people's courts handle the first instance cases at the local level.
Basic people's courts are set up at the county and district level. They consist of a president, vice president, and judges. A basic court may be further divided into criminal, civil, and economic divisions. Basic people's courts also handle cases that are deemed too trivial to require a trial.Beijing Municipal High People's Court
The Beijing Municipal High People's Court is the high people's court for Beijing, China.Court of special jurisdiction (China)
Court of special jurisdiction is one level of the court system in China. The courts under this jurisdiction includes:
Railway transport courts
Shanghai Financial Court
Beijing Intellectual Property Court
Shanghai Intellectual Property Court
Guangzhou Intellectual Property Court
Hangzhou Internet CourtFirst Circuit Court of the Supreme People's Court
The First Circuit Court of the Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国最高人民法院第一巡回法庭) is a circuit court created in December 2014 and opened on January 28, 2015, in Shenzhen, China. It has jurisdiction in the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan.Differing from a circuit court in a common law jurisdiction, the First Circuit is part of a pilot program to establish circuit courts of the Supreme People's Court outside Beijing, the seat of the national government, with the same level of jurisdiction of the supreme court, i.e. cases decided by the circuit courts are deemed as finally decided by the supreme court itself. The pilot program is carried out in an effort to avoid local influences.Hangzhou Internet Court
Hangzhou Internet Court is a court of special jurisdiction in People's Republic of China. It is established on August 18, 2017, based on Hangzhou Railway Transport Court. It hears internet-related cases like contract disputes involving online shopping, services and copyright infringement.High people's court
The High People's Court or Higher People's Court (高级人民法院) is the highest local court in the People's Republic of China. In each Province, it is subject to the "People's Congress".
According to the Organic Law of the People's Courts of the People's Republic of China, the courts are responsible for issues at the provincial level. National matters are handled by the Supreme People's Court.
The President of the High People's Court is appointed by the People's Congress. Judges are appointed by the "Standing Committee" of the "People's Congress".Intermediate people's court
An intermediate people's court (Chinese: 中级人民法院) is the second lowest local people's court in China. According to the Organic Law of the People's Courts of the People's Republic of China, the intermediate people's courts handle relevant important local cases in the first instance and hear appeal cases from the basic people's courts.Jiangsu High People's Court
Jiangsu High People's Court is the high people's court, the highest judicial organ, of Jiangsu, China. It is located in Nanjing. The current president is Gong Pixiang.Local people's court
A local people's court of the People's Republic of China is a court at local level of the People's Republic of China. According to the Organic Law of the People's Courts, the local people's courts includes:
High people's courts
Intermediate people's courts
Basic people's courtsDuring the 1940s and 1950s, people's courts were village meetings in which peasants would complain about their landlords. This was known as 'Speak Bitterness' and was set up by the Communists for the denunciation of landlords.Maritime court (China)
A maritime court is a court of special jurisdiction of China that deals with matters in the waters under Chinese jurisdiction.Military court (China)
A military court is a court of special jurisdiction in China that deals with matters in the Chinese military.Organic Law of the People's Courts of the People's Republic of China
The Organic Law of the People's Courts of the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国人民法院组织法) is the organic law for the people's courts in China. It was passed in 1954 for the first time. After the Cultural Revolution, this law was re-passed by the Fifth National People's Congress on July 1, 1979 and amended by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on September 2, 1983.
This law has three chapters and 41 articles. It prescribes that the Chinese courts include the Supreme People's Court, local people's courts, and other special courts.Penal system in China
The penal system in China is mostly composed of an administrative detention system and a judicial incarceration system. As of mid 2015, it is reported prisoners held in prisons managed by Ministry of Justice is 1,649,804, result in a population rate of 118 per 100,000. Detainees in Ministry of Public Security facilities is 650,000 as of 2009, which combined would result in a population rate of 164 per 100,000. China also retained the use of death penalty with the approval right reserved to the Supreme People's Court, and have a system of death penalty with reprieve where the sentence is suspended unless the convicted commit another major crime within two years while detained. There are discussion urging increased use of community correction, and debate are ongoing to have Ministry of Justice oversee administrative detainees as well to prevent police from having too much power.People's assessors
People's assessors system is a part of the Judicial system of China.Political offences in China
This is a list of political offences in China. During the Maoist era, particularly during the Anti-Rightist Movement and the Cultural Revolution, the judicial system of China was often used for political persecution of rivals, and penalties such as jail terms or capital punishment were largely imposed on the authority's political enemies, or anyone who dared to challenge it. During those times, vague accusations such as "counter-revolutionary" (反革命), Capitalist roader (走資本主义路线), "running dog of the imperialist " (帝国主义走狗) could have had the accused imprisoned, or shot by firing squad. These labels fell out of use following the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976.
In more recent times, accusations such as "possession of state secret" (拥有国家机密) and "inciting subversion of state power" (煽动推翻国家政权) carry long jail terms. The vague charge of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" has also been frequently used to detain human rights activists.Second Circuit Court of the Supreme People's Court
The Second Circuit Court of the Supreme People's Court of the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国最高人民法院第二巡回法庭), is a circuit court created in December 2014 and opened on January 31, 2015, in Shenyang, China. It is one of the six circuit courts established by the Supreme People's Court. It has jurisdiction in the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang. Differing from a circuit court in a common law jurisdiction, the Second Circuit is part of a pilot program to establish circuit courts of the Supreme People's Court outside Beijing, the seat of the national government, with the same level of jurisdiction of the supreme court, i.e. cases decided by the circuit courts are deemed as finally decided by the supreme court itself. The pilot program is carried out in an effort to avoid local influences.The court decided its first case on March 10, 2015, ruling in favor of Lishan branch of Agricultural Bank of China in an economic dispute between the branch and Anshan City's power authority. The Court's chief judge is Junior Justice Hu Yunteng.Shanghai Financial Court
The Shanghai Financial Court is the first specialised financial court to be established the People's Republic of China. It was established in August 2018 to provide specialised handling of finance related cases.Supreme People's Court
The Supreme People's Court (Chinese: 最高人民法院; pinyin: Zuìgāo Rénmín Fǎyuàn) is the highest level of court in the mainland area of the People's Republic of China. Hong Kong and Macau, as special administrative regions, have their own separate judicial systems based on British common law traditions and Portuguese civil-law traditions respectively, and are out of the jurisdiction of the Supreme People's Court.
The Supreme People's Court is regarded as the superior appellate forum in China which supervises and governs the procedure of justice by all the special people courts and the local, subordinate courts. It is also the court of last resort in the whole of China.
The court is made up of 340 judges which meet in smaller tribunals to decide cases.
The court system consists of a four-level, two-hearing system trial process.Trial of Xiao Zhen
The Trial of Xiao Chen (Chinese: 肖真; pinyin: Xiāo Zhēn) in Shanghai, China, for the murder of Hiren Mohini in Mount Eden, New Zealand, is notable as the first time a New Zealand murder has been tried in a foreign court. In the Chinese media, the case was frequently referred to as "New Zealand's first murder case" (新西兰第一命案).
Court systems of the People's Republic of China
Judiciaries of Asia