China simplifying handling of foreign-related civil and commercial court cases

China is adjusting its jurisdiction over foreign-related civil and commercial cases to offer litigants greater convenience. The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued a guideline stating that district-level courts are responsible for handling civil and commercial disputes involving foreign litigants, while intermediate-level courts will hear foreign- related cases involving large amounts of money, complicated circumstances, multiple litigants or social repercussions. The guideline will come into effect on January 1. It stipulated that the definition of “large” depends on location. For example, intermediate courts in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing as well as the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Shandong and Guangdong, will deal with cases involving CNY40 million or more, while courts at the same level in other areas will handle disputes involving CNY20 million or more. Cases involving CNY5 billion or more, or with significant social repercussions, will be heard at high-level courts, it said.

Maritime and intellectual property cases involving foreign litigants will not be subject to the guideline, nor will public-interest lawsuits related to the environment or ecological damage compensation. Currently, foreign-related disputes are generally heard at a few designated intermediate-level courts with stronger judicial capability, but as “the number of judges able to deal with these cases in courts at district and intermediate levels is rising, it’s okay to expand jurisdiction to better serve opening-up”, the SPC’s No 4 Civil Division explained in a statement. The change was also made in response to the rapid growth of the number of foreign-related civil and commercial cases in the last few years due to the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the building of the Hainan Free Trade Zone.

Data from the SPC last month showed that courts concluded 295,000 foreign-related civil, commercial and maritime cases between January 2013 and June, issuing 31 judicial interpretations and nine normative documents. To more efficiently handle BRI-related disputes and advance opening-up, the SPC opened its first international commercial court in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, and a second in Xian, Shaanxi province, in June 2018, the China Daily reports.