Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Beijing court abolishes sanctions for overturned decisions

The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate-Level People's Court recently announced that it was doing away with the system of disciplining judges on the basis of overturned decisions. Under that system, if a certain number of decisions were revised or overturned on appeal (or presumably on retrial pursuant to judicial supervision as well), the judge would receive sanctions in the form of benefit cuts or demerits. This system, commonly practiced in the Chinese courts, has been criticized by many on the grounds that (1) it leads judges to clear their decisions with superior courts beforehand, often through non-transparent means that in effect jeopardize the meaningfulness of an appeal, and (2) that it leads judges to pressure the parties unduly to accept a "mediated" settlement, from which (being theoretically voluntary) there is no appeal. Superior court judges, being only human, may also be reluctant in a close case to overturn a judgment when it will bring sanctions on the head of a fellow judge. Finally, of course, the system rests on a questionable premise: that there are no close cases, and that one "wrong" judgment is just as bad as another.

In order to avoid these perverse incentives, the No. 1 Intermediate Court has decided to replace a disciplinary system based on outcomes with a system based on process: the judge's behavior. Thus, judges are henceforth to be rewarded or disciplined based on their conduct of trials, not on whether the judgment is overturned or not.

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