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China: Supreme People’s Court Adds Four More Circuit Courts

(Feb. 13, 2017) On December 28 and 29, 2016, the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Circuit Courts of China’s highest court, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), officially inaugurated their operations.  (Zuigao Fa Disan Disi Xunhui Fating Jiepai, Kaishi Zhengshi Bangong) [SPC 3rd and 4th Circuit Courts Launched, Started Formal Operations], XINHUANET (Dec. 29, 2016); Zuigao Renmin Fayuan Diwu Diliu Xunhui Fating Jiepai Bangong [SPC 5th and 6th Circuit Courts Launched and Started Operations], XINHUANET (Dec. 30, 2016).  The First (located in Shenzhen) and Second (located in Shenyang) Circuit Courts were officially launched on January 28 and 31, 2015, respectively.  (Zuigao Fa Disan Disi Xunhui Fating Jiepai, Kaishi Zhengshi Bangong, supra.)

With the addition of the Fourth to Sixth Circuit Courts, the area covered by the Circuit Courts is now nearly the entire country: 20 provinces,  4 autonomous regions, and 2 municipalities with the status of provinces.  The locations and jurisdictions of the Circuit Courts are as follows:

  • First Circuit Court (located in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province):
    • Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Hunan.
  • Second Circuit Court (located in Shenyang, Liaoning Province):
    • Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang.
  • Third Circuit Court (located in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province):
    • Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi.
  • Fourth Circuit Court (located in Zhengzhou, Henan Province):
    • Henan, Shanxi, Hubei, Anhui.
  • Fifth Circuit Court (located in Chongqing):
    • Chongqing, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, and Tibet.
  • Sixth Circuit Court (located in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province):
    • Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Xinjiang.

The SPC headquarters in Beijing covers the rest of  the country: Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, and  Inner Mongolia.

In the future, the SPC may open additional Circuit Courts and adjust the existing Circuit Courts’ jurisdiction boundaries.  The SPC may also change the types of cases the Circuit Courts may accept.  (Zuigao Renmin Fayuan Guanyu Xunhui Fating Shenli Anjian Ruogan Wenti de Guiding [Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues Concerning the Hearing of Cases by Circuit Courts] (Circuit Court Provisions) (Jan. 5, 2015as amended on Dec. 19, 2016, effective Dec. 28, 2016), art. 1, SPC website; English translation available at Westlaw China online subscription database.)

According to the Circuit Court Provisions, these Courts are established as subdivisions of the SPC located outside of Beijing.  The judgments, rulings, and decisions rendered by Circuit Courts are deemed to be rendered by the SPC itself, i.e., Circuit Courts have the same level of jurisdiction as the SPC.  (Id. art. 2.)  The Circuit Courts hear cases from their respective circuit jurisdictions “that shall be accepted by the Supreme People’s Court,” which include not only appeals from the High People’s Courts, but also certain major first-instance cases.  (Id. art. 3.)

The Circuit Court Provisions also set out types of cases the Circuit Courts cannot hear, including those involving  intellectual property rights, foreign-related commerce, maritime issues and maritime commerce, death sentence reviews, and state compensation.  (Id. art. 4.)  In addition, the SPC may decide to hear at its headquarters a case accepted by a Circuit Court if the SPC determines the case to “be of great significance in guiding the unified application of law.”  (Id. art. 8.)  A Circuit Court may also request that the SPC headquarters hear such a case that it has accepted.  (Id.)