"Internet +" makes an appearance in court

“Internet +” is the latest technological concept taking China by storm. “Internet +" combines the internet and information technology with traditional business models. Started in 2015, the "Internet +" trend shows no signs of slowing down. "Internet +" has been widely adopted by conventional enterprises dealing with consumer businesses and services. Recently, it caught the attention and imagination of the Chinese government. In a move to reap the benefits of "Internet +" for Chinese citizens, the Chinese judicial system took the initiative to launch its version of "Internet +".

The adoption of internet technologies by Chinese courts is not unprecedented. In early 2009, the Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People’s Court established its online litigation service platform that provides online case filing and document delivery services. In 2015, the Zhengzhou Intermediate People’s Court attempted to hold a trial on Wechat (which is China’s equivalent to of Whatsapp, the instant messaging platform). Recently, in a hearing by the Guangzhou Yuexiu People's Court, a witness was allowed to present via the video function of Wechat. 

The most significant tech-related development within judicial practice, is the establishment of the first internet court in China which specialises in handling internet-related cases. The court opened on 18 August 2017 in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. The city is currently the central hub of internet ecommerce in China and is where Alibaba Group is based.

The Hangzhou Internet Court (the “Court”) will adjudicate internet related disputes on its Online Dispute Platform (www.netcourt.gov.cn, the “Platform”). The Court follows the same rules as normal trials but implements all procedures via the internet on the Platform. The detailed regime has been clarified in the Trial Rules of the Hangzhou Internet Court Dispute Platform (the “Rules”). The establishment is recognised to be a meaningful reform in judicial practice, an area long considered as traditional and conservative. According to the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies are expected to be applied in the future. With further development, AI can learn applicable laws and regulations and collect data or evidence from the litigating parties’ accessible databases. AI can also nudge judges towards any defects in evidence and predict potential judgments based on precedents for the judge’s reference. Using big data to analyse the nuances of disputes can help the government understand any underlying societal issues or economic trends.

The Court will mainly handle cases which fall within the jurisdiction of the people's courts of first instance in Hangzhou, including disputes regarding online business activities (such as shopping services and microfinancing of loans), ownership and infringement of online copyright, online personal rights infringement, domain names and any other internet-related civil or administrative cases designated by the higher courts.

Important milestone

The establishment of the Court is considered to be an important milestone in the informatisation reform of China’s judicial system. The Court, with its successful launch, will serve as an important example for other courts looking to embrace technology. It is believed that more Chinese courts will follow suit and catch up with the many “Internet +” applications proliferating across China and worldwide.

All prosecution procedures in the court will be conducted via the Platform, including filing for litigation, accepting the case, paying litigation fees, delivering documents, mediating the case, submitting evidence, cross-examining the evidence, pre-trial hearing, the hearing itself, delivering the verdict and executing judgements. Moving procedures online is expected to improve the efficiency of hearing cases, reduce litigation costs and provide convenience to the parties involved. The Platform manifested how judicial rules and procedures can be perfected to fit an internet environment. 

In normal judicial practice, the preparation of supporting documents (such as identity certificates and evidence etc.) could be very time consuming and sometimes difficult, in particular, when a document needs to be obtained from administrative authorities. But, with the Platform, the registered parties can be verified via the online real name verification process, face recognition or the off-line verification system. If the dispute is related to online businesses, based on the information provided by the parties, the Platform can automatically import data from the corresponding online business platform to be used as evidence. The parties can also submit e-evidence to the Platform, which provides detailed guidance on how to do so.  

Similarly, with normal hearings, the hearing will often be recorded by clerks manually. This archaic process of writing and typing is time consuming and has the risk of being inaccurate, which means the process of reviewing and revising often takes a long time. With the Platform, the hearing can be videoed and the video itself can serve as the trial record. If written records are required, a Speech Recognition System can generate the trial records automatically, which can be reviewed and confirmed by the parties online. With further advancement, judges can even use artificial intelligence to draft judgements.

The Court is proving to be a success. As of 30 October 2017, which is around two-and-a-half months after its establishment, the Court has accepted 3515 cases and completed 1752 cases. The hearing usually takes around 28 minutes and the average litigation period is 52 days.

It is anticipated that the Court will continue to further its technological reach. On 30 October 2017, ten experts with legal and computer science background have been employed by the Court to form the Expert Advisory Committee. The experts will assist the Court in exploring the rules on internet litigation, defining standards for internet judicial practice and advising on the development of the Court.

Nick Beckett, Managing Partner of the Beijing Office, CMS
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