Interesting article from the Southern Weekend a few weeks back on the well-known phenomena of Chinese courts refusing to accept cases toward the end of the calendar year.
The underlying dynamics are relatively simple. Chinese courts and judges are graded annually by their superiors on a number of targets, including reversed case ratios, numbers of cases successfully mediated, and the like. One such target: closed case ratios – numbers of cases closed out in a particular calendar year, compared with the numbers of cases filed. The higher the ratio, the better for the court and its judges in terms of salary bonuses and career promotions. For precisely this reason, Chinese court presidents fall over themselves every year to announce that they have achieved 95, 99, or 100% closed case ratios.
Of course, the reality is much more complex. Given time constraints, courts are much less likely to be able to resolve those cases that are filed towards the end of the year. Absent any corrective measures, this will drag down court statistics and negatively affect salaries and careers.
So how to resolve this? Stop accepting cases. Block parties from filing, particularly towards the end of the year.
The Southern Weekend piece details the case filing divisions (立案厅) of certain Henan courts refusing to accept cases as early as October 8th. It also details a variety of overt and disguised strategies that are employed, ranging from heightened procedural requirements (requiring plaintiffs to provide photocopies of the defendants ID card in order to file a case), to substantive examination of plaintiffs legal claims at the case filing level (not required under law), to outright bars on accepting cases.
Perceiving these problems, Chinese central authorities have made strong efforts to modify the underlying targets to address these abuses. In 2008, the Supreme People’s Court created a new set of 33 targets to evaluate judicial performance, shifting “case closure ratios” to “ratio of cases closed within the legally required time period.” If implemented, this would theoretically shift the incentives facing courts and judges away from a simple examination of how many cases were closed out in a given calendar year, helping address some of these problems.
But the intriguing thing is – (at least according to the article) it doesn’t appear to have happened. And that’s the thing I’m particularly interested in – the institutional bureaucratic drag appears to simply be too strong.