With China’s rapidly growing digital economy, the need to develop a “digital rule of law” has become urgent. As such, Chinese courts are beginning to explore the use of new technologies and attempting to facilitate litigation through online means. Examples include online case filing, adopting various forms of AI and blockchain technologies, and establishing the first “internet court” in the world.
China established its first so-called Internet Court in Hangzhou in 2017. With the success of the Hangzhou Court, similar courts in Beijing and Guangzhou were built in 2018.
These internet courts are dedicated to handling first-instance, mostly tech-related cases within the jurisdiction of the court, such as disputes regarding e-commerce, online copyright, domain names, and other cyber torts.
In recent years, and due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, Chinese courts decided to continue broadening the scope and technical applications of this sort of online litigation. Parties can file cases, conduct mediation, appear at hearings, and more. In fact, the public can attend certain public trials through livestreaming.
Moreover, courts are adopting technology such as a voice-to-text system, ‘one-click delivery’ (litigation documents are easily sent to parties via e-mail, WeChat etc.), a document writing assistant, and an online electronic signature program.
Courts also utilize appropriate implementations of AI and blockchain technology at this point. The latter has been applied in many Chinese courts for tamper-free evidence gathering and storage. The use of blockchain evidence discovery is significantly faster and more cost-effective, since e-evidence doesn’t have to go through a cumbersome authentication and notarization process that can hamper litigation, especially litigation involving international parties.
Regulating online litigation
With all of this in mind, the Supreme People’s Court enacted the “Rules of Online Litigation of People’s Court”, effective as of August 1, 2021.
The Rules stipulate that online litigation has the same effect as offline litigation and offer guidance on how to manage various aspects of the process, including online case filing, mediation, online hearings, online judgments, and online enforcement.
The Rules apply to all civil, administrative, special procedure, and enforcement cases, certain commutation and parole cases, as well as a limited number of criminal cases that involve a potential fast-track sentencing procedure. The Rules emphasize that the parties’ consent is necessary, and that a certain level of technical skill is required.
The Rules further confirm the legal validity of an electronic document (if requirements prescribed by the Rules are met) such that it can be used without providing original, physical copies, in keeping with the notion that blockchain adds a layer of trust that relevant documents are tamper-free.
It is clear that China aims to become a world leader in the use of new technologies, such as AI and blockchain in litigation. As the digital transformation continues, it will be very interesting to watch the (further) implementation of these technologies.
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