On September 6, 2018, the Supreme People’s Court promulgated the Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Issues Concerning Trials by Internet Courts (the “Provisions”), which came into effect on September 7, 2018. The Provisions contain a series of regulations such as the jurisdiction of the Internet courts, the establishment of the appeal mechanism and the litigation platform, as well as identity authentication, filing, responding, submission of evidence, trial, service, signature, and archiving. The main contents of the Provisions are highlighted below:
Under Article 2 of the Provisions, the Internet courts in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou shall have centralized jurisdiction as the first instance court over the following cases that had been handled by the lowest level people’s courts within the jurisdiction of their respective cities: (1) disputes arising from the signing or performance of online shopping contracts through e-commerce platforms; (2) disputes over network service contracts that are both signed and performed on the Internet; (3) disputes over financial loan contracts or small loan contracts that are both signed and performed on the Internet; (4) disputes over the ownership of the copyrights or neighboring rights of works published on the Internet for the first time; (5) disputes arising from infringement upon the copyrights or neighboring rights of works published or disseminated online; (6) disputes over Internet domain name ownership, infringement and contracts; (7) disputes arising from infringement upon others’ personal rights, property rights and other civil rights and interests on the Internet; (8) product liability disputes arising from infringement upon others’ personal and property rights and interests due to defects in products purchased through e-commerce platforms; (9) Internet public interest litigation cases filed by prosecutor agencies; (10) administrative disputes arising from administrative actions taken by administrative agencies, such as Internet information service management, Internet commodity trading, and related service management; and (11) other Internet civil and administrative cases whose jurisdiction is designated by superior people’s courts.
Meanwhile, for matters within the above scope, the parties may agree on the jurisdiction of the Internet court that has an actual geographic relationship with the dispute. If an e-commerce operator or network service provider intends to enter into a jurisdiction agreement with its subscribers in the form of standard clauses, the laws and judicial interpretations concerning standard clauses shall be complied.
Article 4 of the Provisions stipulates the jurisdiction of appeals. An appeal filed by a party against a judgment or ruling rendered by the Beijing Internet Court shall be tried by the No. 4 Intermediate People’s Court of Beijing Municipality, but an appeal concerning a dispute over the ownership of or infringement of any Internet copyright, or a dispute over any Internet domain name, shall be tried by the Beijing Intellectual Property Court. The Intermediate People’s Court of Guangzhou City shall hear an appeal of judgment or ruling rendered by Guangzhou Internet Court, while an appeal concerning a dispute over the ownership of or infringement of any Internet copyright, or a dispute over any Internet domain name, shall be tried by the Guangzhou Intellectual Property Court. The Intermediate People’s Court of Hangzhou City shall hear appeals against a judgment or ruling rendered by the Hangzhou Internet Court.
2. Online trial mechanism and identity authentication
Pursuant to Article 1 of the Provisions, an Internet court shall try cases online, and the acceptance, service, mediation, evidence exchange, pretrial preparation, court trial, announcement of the decision and other litigation events shall be generally completed online.
Under Article 6 of the Provisions, if the parties and other litigation participants take legal actions through the litigation platform, they shall complete the online identity authentication process, which may include verification of licenses and certifications, biometric identification or the national uniform ID identity authentication platform, and obtain an account for use on the litigation platform. All conduct from such an account shall be deemed as the conduct of the authenticated individual.
3. Online litigation procedure
Article 15 of the Provisions provide that with the consent of the parties, the Internet court shall serve litigation documents and evidentiary materials submitted by the parties electronically through the Chinese Judicial Process Information Network, the litigation platforms, SMS, fax, e-mail, or to other instant messaging accounts. If the parties do not expressly consent but have agreed to use electronic service in litigation in the event of any dispute, or have otherwise accepted completed electronic delivery through a confirmation reply or a corresponding legal action, they may be deemed to have agreed to electronic delivery. After the parties have been informed of their rights and obligations with their consent obtained, the Internet court may electronically deliver judgment documents. If the parties request a paper copy of the judgment document, the Internet court shall provide it. Article 16 also stipulates the verification and notification rules for electronic service addresses.
Under Article 9 of the Provisions, if an Internet court organizes an online evidence exchange, the parties shall upload or import electronic data onto the litigation platform, or scan, take pictures of, record, or otherwise electronically process offline evidence before uploading them to the litigation platform for substantiation. Electronic data that have been introduced in the litigation platform may also be used to prove a claim.
(3) Trial procedures
An Internet court conducts a court hearing via streaming video. If there is a special situation in which the court needs to verify identities, check the originals, and check physical objects, the Internet court may decide to conduct the hearing offline, but other parts of the litigation process should still be completed online. Article 13 of the Provisions stipulates the method for streamlining the trial procedures. For example, with the consent of the parties, parts of the process, such as statements of the parties, the court investigation of evidence and oral arguments can be combined.
In general, the Provisions provide a more comprehensive explanation of the litigation procedure for Internet courts, which will contribute to the innovation of the Internet trial mechanism. For e-commerce enterprises, attention shall be paid to jurisdiction and the litigation process so as to optimize its website agreements, jurisdictional agreements, etc., accordingly in order to deal with possible litigation risks.