Similar Case Guidance: Back to the Future

China’s recent Guidance on Unifying the Application of Laws and Strengthening Similar Case Research (“Similar Case Guidance”) announced by the People’s Supreme Court marks an important step to form a clear approach for introducing past court decisions.

The application of law in China can easily vary from one region to another due to various reasons such as tradition and customs. To handle discrepancies, the mechanism of Guiding Cases was introduced in 2011. Afterwards, many rules have been implemented, however these regulations are all limited to the relevant court’s internal procedures. It seems that the Similar Case Guidance will bring some clarification in the concept of using similar cases in litigation.

Based on the Similar Case Guidance, similar cases are cases with similar fact patterns and issues. The concept of law derived from former judicial decisions is well known in common law countries. In civil-law countries only the legislature may create law. In modern society most countries have a mixed legal system with both common-law as well as civil-law characteristics.

Similar Case Guidance is in particular helpful in cases where there are some uncertainties on the application of law. The judge can look at precedented decisions of relevant courts and apply the same principles and follow the same reasoning. The similar case research under the Similar Case Guidance is initiated by the court instead by lawyers/prosecutors which is normally the case in common law countries.

However, based on answers by the People’s Supreme Court during a press conference, the parties are allowed to file a similar case research report to support their arguments. The court might need to clarify whether the principle of Similar Case Guidance will be applied in the procedure depending on the circumstance. Similar case research can be helpful to estimate damages and project trial success.

The future will tell how the application of the Similar Case Guidance will work out in the court room. However, the Similar Case Guidance is no doubt a positive signal for China’s efforts towards unification and clarification of the legal system.

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