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China: Laws Amended to Allow Prosecutors to Bring Public Interest Lawsuits

(July 6, 2017) On June 27, 2017, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) issued a decision on amending the Civil Procedure Law and the Administrative Procedure Law, formally allowing Chinese procuratorates, which in general serve as the prosecutors in criminal cases, to bring public interest lawsuits. (Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui Changwu Weiyuanhui Guanyu Xiugai Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Minshi Susong Fa he Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Xingzheng Susong Fa de Jueding [Decision of the NPC Standing Committee on Amending the PRC Civil Procedure Law and the PRC Administrative Procedure Law] (Decision), (June 27, 2017; effective July 1, 2017), NPC official website.)

The NPC decision added two provisions, respectively to the Civil Procedure Law and the Administrative Procedure Law. According to the newly added article 55(2) of the Civil Procedure Law, the procuratorates may file civil lawsuits against acts that compromise public rights and interests in cases related to environmental and natural resources protection and food and drug safety.  (Id. art. 1; China Focus: China Amends Laws to Allow Public Interest Litigation by Prosecutors, XINHUANET (June 27, 2017).)  The newly added article 25(4) of the Administrative Procedure Law allows the procuratorates to file administrative lawsuits for abuse of power or nonfeasance in cases concerning environmental and natural resources protection, food and drug safety, preservation of state assets, and transfer of state-owned land use rights.  (Decision, art. 2; China Focus: China Amends Laws to Allow Public Interest Litigation by Prosecutors, supra.)

Background on Filing of Public Interest Lawsuits in China

Before the two laws were formally amended, in July 2015 the Supreme People’s Procuratorate launched a two-year pilot program of filing public interest lawsuits, in which 13 provincial procuratorates handled 7,886 public interest cases and filed 934 lawsuits.  Among the 222 cases brought by the procuratorates that actually went before a court, in all of them the courts ruled in favor of the procuratorates. (China Focus: China Amends Laws to Allow Public Interest Litigation by Prosecutors, supra.) 

A 2012 amendment to the Civil Procedure Law had first allowed “bodies and organizations prescribed by law” to bring lawsuits concerning environmental pollution and other activities harming the public interest. Later, in April 2014, the Environmental Protection Law was amended to clarify the qualifications of “social organizations” or non-governmental organizations that may bring environmental public interest lawsuits.  (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Huanjing Baohu Fa [PRC Environmental Protection Law] (adopted by the NPC Standing Committee on Dec. 26, 1989, revised Apr. 24, 2014), art. 58, Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China website; English translation (Apr. 24, 2014), CHINADIALOGUE.NET.)  Effective January 1, 2015, the Environmental Protection Law provides that a qualified social organization must be registered with a government civil affairs department at or above the level of a city with districts, and must have been engaged specifically in public service activities in environmental protection for five consecutive years without any record of violation of the law.  (Laney Zhang, China: Notable Environmental Public Interest Lawsuit, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Oct. 17, 2014).)

The power to file public interest lawsuits appears to be a new extension of the procuratorates’ authority. The entry of the powerful state units with their significant financial resources into this field of litigation may be helpful in enhancing the enforcement of environmental laws in China.  (The Role of Public Interest Litigation in Enforcing Environmental Law in China, D’ANDREA & PARTNERS (Sept. 27, 2016).)