Local Chinese Legislature Mounts Effort to Intervene in Court Case

February 10, 2005

A recent Legal Daily article illustrates how the practice of "individual case supervision" offers litigants an extralegal method of influencing how courts decide cases. Individual case supervision permits local people’s congresses (LPCs) to intervene in and review court cases.

According to the article, a contract dispute between an electrical tools factory in Zhejiang province and an import company in Jiangsu province erupted into a series of lawsuits over product quality. Each party filed cases in their home jurisdiction. An effort by the factory owner to negotiate a settlement in person resulted in his arrest. A Jiangsu court subsequently sentenced him to a prison term for selling inferior products.

Both the business community and LPC in the owner’s Zhejiang hometown reacted immediately, as they feared similar sanctions against themselves. After a request from LPC delegates and entrepreneurs, the local LPC decided to exercise individual case supervision. It convened legal and government experts and determined that the Jiangsu court had erred. The LPC then sent representatives to the Jiangsu home of the import company to convince the counterpart LPC to exercise individual case supervision over appeal proceedings in the local intermediate court.

The two LPCs ultimately agreed only on the procedural flaws in the case. But under this agreement, the local court in Jiangsu overturned the Zhejiang owner’s criminal sentence. Despite the intervention of the two LPCs, however, the case remains unresolved. According to the article, the local procuratorate has refused to transfer the case to the owner’s home jurisdiction.

For an LPC to employ individual case supervision to intervene in a case in another jurisdiction is relatively rare. More frequently, LPCs use the procedure to affect court decisions within their own jurisdictions. In addition to threatening judicial independence, there are no clear rules governing individual case supervision. No law currently describes the rights or responsibilities of LPCs, the courts, or the procuratorates with regard to the procedure. The result is that LPC intervention often prompts political negotiations among all interested parties rather than a transparent process of review and decision based on the case’s legal merits.