On February 14, 2020, the Supreme People’s Court issued the Circular on Strengthening and Regulating Online Litigation Work during the Novel Coronavirus Epidemic Prevention and Control Period (the “Circular”), which is highlighted below:
The Circular requires all levels of the people’s courts to improve their political positioning, recognize the seriousness of the epidemic situation, enhance their sense of responsibility and urgency, and strive to serve and safeguard the overall epidemic prevention and control work through their role in issuing judgment. It is further emphasized that the people’s courts shall also properly protect the litigation rights and interests of the parties, respect their right to choose how the case is to be handled, and provide comprehensive and accurate information on the rights, obligations and consequences of online litigation. All levels of the people’s courts should actively guide the parties to conduct online litigation activities in an orderly manner, vigorously work to improve the online procedures and litigation protocols, and develop and publish comprehensive, clear and easy-to-use online litigation guides, but the relevant contents shall not deviate from existing laws and judicial interpretations.
The Circular clarifies the rules regarding online litigation. The first is online identity authentication, where the real identities of the parties are verified so that the parties, the case and the account information all match. The second is how cases are docketed online. The people’s courts are required to conduct the review within seven days of receipt of the online registration application and the complaint materials, and timely docket the case if the application meets the requirements. Third, the Circular vigorously promotes online mediation and requires the people’s courts to employ a variety of online dispute mediation platforms to promote the resolution of disputes during the epidemic prevention and control period. Fourth, the Circular stipulates rules on the submission of litigation materials, as parties submitting materials electronically no longer need to submit hard copy originals after such materials have been reviewed and approved by the people’s courts. The people’s courts shall work to provide technical support and facilitation for the parties to submit materials electronically. Fifth, factors such as technical conditions, the case circumstances and the wishes of the parties concerned shall be taken into account in determining whether to adopt online court hearings. The Circular also specifies the specific circumstances under which online court hearings are not applicable. Sixth, for online adjudication, qualified judges may remotely access the electronic files, jointly discuss the case, and draft and submit adjudication documents. Seventh, electronic service is enhanced with the applicability criteria, the service method and the effectiveness standard stipulated. Eighth, the online litigation services are improved where the people’s courts are required to comprehensively upgrade their online litigation service platforms and expand their functions so as to ensure that the parties may have access to a full range of litigation services without leaving their homes.