The Supreme People’s Court is the highest trial organ in the country and exercises its right of trial independently. It is also the highest supervising organ over the trial practices of local people’s courts and special people’s courts at various levels. It reports its work to the National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee. The right of appointment and removal of the president and vice presidents as well as members of the trial committee of the Supreme People’s Court lies with the National People’s Congress.
The Functions and Rights of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC)
1. Conducting trial of the following cases: first-hearing cases placed with the SPC by laws and regulations and those the SPC deems within its jurisdiction; appeals or protests against trial decisions or verdicts of the higher people’s courts and special people’s courts; appeals against court judgments lodged by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate according to trial supervision procedures.
2. Giving approval to death sentence. The SPC may, when necessary, delegate the right of approval for death sentences passed against offenders involved in serious cases of killing people, raping women, looting, destruction by using explosives and other cases which severely endanger and harm public security and social order.
3. Supervising the trials by local people’s courts and special people’s courts at different levels.
4. On discovering mistakes in the rulings and verdicts of local people’s courts already being legally enforced, conducting questioning or appointing a lower level court to conduct re-hearing.
5. Giving approvals to verdicts on crimes not specifically stipulated in the criminal law.
6. Offering explanations over the concrete application of laws during the trial process.
Principles for the Work of the SPC
1. The principle of equality. All citizens are equal before the law, so are all the ethnic groups. No privilege or discrimination is allowed in the application of law.
2. The principle of open trials. All cases tried by the people’s courts should be conducted openly except those involving state secrets, individual’s privacy or offenses committed by minors.
3. The principle of defense. The accused is entitled to the right of defense by appointing others or him or her self to defend oneself in the establishment of facts and evidence.
4. The system of collegiate panels. When trying first-hearing cases, the SPC shall conduct the trial with a panel consisting of one to three judges and two to four People’s Assessors. The trial of cases of appeals shall be conducted with a panel of three to five judges. The panel should be presided over by a judge appointed by the court president or the presiding judge of the tribunal. All members of the panel enjoy the same rights.
5. The system of challenge. Litigants have the right to request judicial officers to withdraw from the cases because of their conflict of interest or other special relationship with these cases. The right of deciding the withdraw lies with the president of the court. On the other hand, if judicial officers believe they have conflict of interest or other special relationship with the cases which make their withdrawal from the trial necessary, they shall report to the court president.
6. The principle of independence in trials. People’s courts enjoy the right of independence in conducting trials according to law. They shall be free from interferences of administrative organs, social organizations and individuals.
The Organizational Setup of the SPC
The SPC is made up of a president, vice presidents, presiding judges, vice presiding judges and judges. The SPC operates courts of criminal, civil, economic, administrative trials and other courts set up according to actual needs. Besides, the SPC is also made up by a research office, general affairs office, personnel department, judicial affairs department, administrative affairs department, office affairs bureau, foreign affairs bureau and education department.
The Trial Committee
Consisting of the president, vice presidents, presiding judges, vice presiding judges and judges, the Trial Committee is the leading body of the SPC with the following tasks: summing up experiences in the work of trials, and discussing important or difficult cases and other issues related to trials. Meetings of the Trial Committee are presided over by the president of the SPC. The president of the SPC is elected and removed by the National People’s Congress. The vice presidents, presiding judges, vice presiding judges, and other members of the Trial Committee, and judges are appointed and removed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
1. The First Criminal Court whose task is to deal with major cases of criminal offense.
2. The Second Criminal Court whose task is to (investigate or) deal with appeals lodged by litigants, the accused, their relatives or other citizens against the verdicts and decisions that are already being enforced, supervise trials and timely correct mistakes that may have occurred in the trials.
3. The Civil Court whose job is to deal with civil cases of national nature.
4. The Economic Court whose job is to deal with major economic disputes.
5. The Administrative Court whose job is to deal with administrative cases involving organs of the Central Government.
The Multi-hearing Trial System
China’s trial system follows a two-hearing system in the trial process. The entire system of people’s courts constitutes a four-level, two-hearing process. When litigants are not satisfied with the verdict made by any of the local people’s courts at various levels after the court has gone through a first-hearing trial of the case within its jurisdiction, they may appeal to a court of the immediate higher level within the time limit prescribed by law. The court at the next higher level reviews the appeal and passes its judgment which constitutes the verdict of the second hearing. According to the trial system, the verdict of the second hearing is the final decision against which the litigant shall not appeal. The SPC is China’s highest trial organ and all of its decisions on the first- and second-hearing cases are final and shall be enforced once they are promulgated.
The National Court Organizations
China’s people’s court system consists of courts at four levels: namely the grassroots, intermediate, higher and supreme people’s courts, in addition to special courts such as the military, railway and water transportation courts. Grassroots courts refer to tribunals in counties/autonomous counties, cities without administrative districts, or administrative districts of cities; intermediate courts are set up in prefectures, cities directly under provinces (also autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government); higher courts are those set up in provinces (also autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government).
Special courts are a component part of the people’s court system and jointly implement the state right of trials with local people’s courts at different levels. The difference of the special courts from local people’s courts lies in the following aspects:
1. Special courts are trial organs set up according to specified organizations or specified ranges to deal with cases while the local courts are trial organs set up according to administrative divisions;
2. Cases dealt with by special courts are of special nature which means in nature these cases are different from those tried by local people’s courts; and
3. The setup of the special courts and the appointment and removal of the staff of the special courts are also different from those of local people’s courts. For instance, the president of the military court is not elected by the people’s congress but jointly appointed by the SPC and the Central Military Commission.
Special courts include the military court, maritime court, railway transportation court, forestry court, agricultural reclamation court and petroleum court.
The Military Court
The military court is established out of consideration of the special features of the system of the armed forces and their combating tasks. The specific job of the military court is, through trying criminal elements who harm the state and national defense, to safeguard state security, the legal system and the order of the armed forces, consolidate the combat capability of the army, maintain the lawful rights and interests of the army men and other citizens. To combat the enemy, penalize criminals, protect the people and propagate the socialist legal system are the basic functions of the military court.
The military court consists of three levels: first, the Military Court of the People’s Liberation Army, second, the military courts of the various area commands, and units of the various branches of the armed services, and third, the army groups.
A military court consists a president, a vice president, two tribunals each with a presiding judge and a vice presiding judge, judges and clerks. Each of the military courts of various area commands, branches of the armed services and army groups consists of a president, judges and clerks.
In all military courts, a trial committee is set up charged with such tasks as discussing major or difficult cases and other work related to the trials. The committee is chaired by the court president. The procurators of the military procuratorates at the same level or rank may audit at the meeting of the committee.
The jurisdiction of military courts is restricted to specified criminal cases such as criminal cases committed by army men in active service and by workers on the payroll of the military, and other criminal cases whose trial and judgment are delegated to the military court by the SPC.
The Maritime Court
The maritime court handles first-hearing maritime cases or cases involving maritime businesses. It does not deal with criminal cases or other civil cases. Appeals or protests against verdicts of the maritime court are handled by the local higher people’s courts.
A maritime court consists of the maritime tribunal, maritime business tribunal, a research office, and other departments. The court has a president, vice presidents, presiding judges, vice presiding judges and judges. The president of the maritime president is proposed by the chairman of the standing committee of the local city people’s congress for appointment or removal by the standing committee of the people’s congress. The vice presidents, presiding judges, vice presiding judges, judges and members of the trial committee are proposed by the president of the maritime court for appointment or removal by the standing committee of the city’s people’s congress where the court is located.
The Railway Transportation Court
There are two levels of railway transportation courts, namely the intermediate railway transportation courts of the railway administrations and grassroots courts of the railway branch administrations. The trial activities of the intermediate railway courts are supervised by the higher people’s courts in the same regions.
The president of a railway court is proposed by the chairman of the standing committee of the local people’s congress for appointment or removal by the standing committee of the people’s congress of the region where the court is located. The vice president, the presiding judge, vice presiding judge and judges are appointed or removed by the standing committees of the local people’s congresses.
A railway court consists of a criminal tribunal, economic dispute tribunal and civil disputes tribunal. Specifically its jurisdictions cover: (1) civil and criminal cases that have occurred during railway transportation, (2) criminal and civil cases involving workers of railway bureaus, and (3) economic disputes having direct relationships with railway transportation departments.
The Forestry Court
The tasks of forestry courts are to protect the forests, deal with cases involving sabotage to forestry resources, serious responsibility cases and cases involving foreigners.
Forestry courts are set up by forestry bureaus (including timber water transportation bureaus) in specified forested regions. Intermediate forestry courts are set up at forestry administrations of the prefectures or regions where state-owned forests stand in large interlinked patches.