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Legal interpretation outlines work, responsibilities of online courts

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-06-22


A judicial interpretation on online litigation was issued by China's top court on Thursday to further regulate legal procedures in cyberspace.

Entitled Rules of Online Litigation, the 39-article interpretation will come into effect on Aug 1, and is based on the successful operations of the country's three internet courts, as well as the experience of online trials in select courts during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Supreme People's Court.

The interpretation requires courts nationwide to bolster technical support for online litigation, improving its judicial efficiency and upholding justice, but highlights the principle that no court can force litigants to choose online litigation, and that everyone has the right to decide whether to solve their disputes online or offline.

"Courts should get permission from litigants in major online legal procedures, including for case hearings, evidence exchange and delivery, and help them fully understand the online process before they make a decision," said Liu Zheng, deputy head of the top court's judicial reform office.

"As for the young and elderly, as well as those with difficulty in accessing the internet, the courts need to provide more aid in line with the interpretation to ensure they have easier access to litigation," he said.

If litigants agree to attend court online but do not appear in the online courtroom during case hearings without providing an explanation, they will bear legal consequences, he added.

Considering the wide application of advanced technology in the judicial system, Li Shaoping, vice president of the top court, said that the interpretation also clarifies how to review the authenticity of electronic evidence recorded on blockchains.

"The purpose of the interpretation is to meet the public demand for an efficient, low-cost, diversified and fair judiciary in this new era, and to strengthen cyberspace governance by rule of law," he added.

He Fan, deputy head of the top court's international cooperation division, regarded the interpretation as a key step in the country's promotion of the new online judiciary, given that many countries have also made explorations in this area.

Between Jan 1, 2020 and May 31, more than 12.19 million cases were filed online, accounting for 28.3 percent of the total number of cases filed, according to statistics from the Supreme People's Court.

In August 2017, China's first internet court opened in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Later, similar courts were built in Beijing and Guangzhou in Guangdong province. Litigants can finish all procedures online in all three courts.