The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) of the People’s Republic of China recently issued tentative opinions on implementation of the judicial accountability system, covering its basic rules, judicial organization, personnel, process, supervision and administration, which took effect August 1, 2017.
The opinions provide that a collegial panel shall be composed of an appropriate number of judge assistants and clerks in SPC tribunals, and one judge, one assistant and one clerk in circuit courts.
Members of a collegial panel are randomly selected and there are also fixed collegial panels for professional trials.
Fixed panels are required to have regular exchanges with judicial teams, maintaining membership for two years generally and five years at most.
Responsibilities of tribunal presidents have been defined for the following types of cases: major, difficult, complex and new-type cases; those of guiding significance; re-trials as determined by the SPC judicial committee; and finalized cases that need review under judicial supervision or State compensation supervision.
To ensure that the judge who tries a case has the power to decide it and is responsible for his or her decision, a chief judge must write and sign a judgment after explaining the deliberations of the collegial panel.
A judgment is signed in turn by the chief judge, other judges in the collegial panel and the presiding judge. If a presiding judge works as the chief judge, he or she signs last.
A court or tribunal president no longer examines and signs a judgment of a trial he or she did not directly participate in. Neither can he or she render a judgment by giving verbal reasons or merely auditing the deliberations.
The opinions also specify the eight kinds of important cases and issues on the application of law that the SPC judicial committee can discuss, including those concerned with national interests and social stability. Discussions should focus on unified judgment criteria and the application of law.
To adhere to judicial openness, the judicial committee must declare case decisions and reasons in written judgments, unless forbidden by law.
The opinions also state explicitly that all cases handled by the SPC are to be randomly distributed, except for major, difficult, complex and new-type cases, those of guiding significance, ones with identical or very similar information including parties involved and causes, and those taken over by the top court.