SPC Decision on Court Fee Waivers for the Disadvantaged Likely to Have Limited Impact

April 7, 2005

The Supreme People Court (SPC) decided April 6 to expand the use of court fee waivers for poor and disadvantaged plaintiffs. The decision revises previous regulations issued in 2000 that govern a court’s ability to reduce or eliminate litigation fees (susong fei) for certain types of plaintiffs, such as the poor, the elderly, and those receiving legal aid. Courts require plaintiffs to pay litigation fees as part of the filing process, and commonly calculate this mandatory fee as a percentage of the total amount of damages that plaintiffs seek. Since many low-income plaintiffs often lack the funds to pay other than nominal fees before trial, litigation fees often make it hard for poor people to use the legal system to protect their rights. The SPC decision likely will only have a limited impact, however, since it requires courts to grant fee waivers only to the elderly and individuals receiving government welfare payments. Courts retain wide discretion to deny the requests of other impoverished groups, such as migrant workers seeking back wages.