Eyebrows may have been raised when Hangzhou launched its first pioneering Internet court last August to handle cases involving online issues. But the court's overwhelming success in speedily resolving issues has put to bed any concerns about whether it would work.
The Hangzhou Internet Court managed to settle 3,064 cases by the end of 2017.
The average duration of one online court session was 25 minutes. An average for closing a case is 48 days, while all of the 3,064 cases were litigated over by only six judges at the court.
"A similar trial offline would usually take around 98 days to finalize," said Wang Jiangqiao, vice president at the Internet Court.
Hangzhou has been dubbed the "capital of e-commerce" for several years now, ever since the rise of Internet giants such as Alibaba and NetEase. As a result, the city has been chosen specifically to trial the Internet court to pave the way for a nation-wide promotion in future judicial reform.
In 2015, to cope with a proliferation of online disputes, Zhejiang Supreme People's Court approved four online courts at Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court and People's Court in Xihu, Yuhang and Binjiang districts. But these courts only deal with cases involved in e-commerce businesses, occurring both online and offline.
The Internet court has taken a massive step forward with disputes involving online shopping and service disputes, online loans less than 500,000 yuan (US,137.2), online infringements concerning copyright, private rights, product liability, Internet domain name disputes and disagreements between civilians and governmental bodies over Internet administrations.
Anyone who wants to file a case within this scope can register his or her real name via www.netcourt.gov.cn. The statement of claim will be generated automatically once you check certain boxes online stating every detail of your case.
In cases of online shopping disputes, digital evidence is transmitted one-click to what the plaintiff requires from the online shopping websites, such as Taobao.com and Tmall.com, to the online court database aforementioned.
The court sessions can be viewed live online from anywhere in the world, while a verdict can be delivered to the defendant electronically as well.
"I think the most difficult point in making it wired is to confirm the authenticity and validity of the digital evidence, which is usually owned and collected by the Internet companies," said Wang Li, from Hangzhou Normal University's Qianjiang College.
Strict measures are in place to ensure evidence can't be tampered with. Technology such as encrypted storage and block chain are used to ensure digital evidence is not modified to benefit a certain party.
"We call it perpetuation of evidence, which captures and fixates the digital information when they are produced by acts of registration, log-in and online payment," said Jin Hongzhou, CEO of Tsign, a service provider offering solutions based on such technology.
An electronic signature can also be authenticated by a public-key cryptographic system, which has been widely used at the Hangzhou Internet Court.
"The Electronic Signature Law of China, enacted in 2005, stipulates that the e-signature has the same lawful effect as a traditional written signature," said Jin.
Resolving online disputes through an Internet Court is totally new as there is no precedents to follow.
"For example on a national level, there is not a single regulation specifying the rules and norms of an online trial. We set up our own from practice," said Wang Jiangqiao, vice president of Hangzhou Internet Court.
The Hangzhou Internet Court has been approved by the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, China's leading body for guiding and promoting reforms.
"The Hangzhou Internet Court is definitely a pilot court crucial for future judicial reform on a national level. Once the rules set up by the Internet Court have been proven effective here in Hangzhou, they may be promoted and applied in other places of China," said Wang Li.
Artificial intelligence and big data play a big role in the Internet court. There are no court clerks needed during an online court hearing. By using a speech recognition system, words spoken are turned into written documents at the end of the session, rendering a court clerk redundant, which greatly improves the efficiency of a court.
Relying on a huge database, the online court also allows the plaintiff and defendant to check similar cases and evaluate their chances of winning before taking the next step.
The same technology is also benefiting judges and lawyers as well.
"It brings in new challenges. Uncreative and low-end jobs may be replaced by this technology. Some people may be sacked," said Wang Li.
In a recent press conference held at the municipal government of Hangzhou, Judge Shao Jingteng, who had briefed on the progress of the Internet Court, talked about an envisaged plan to tie every person with a unique identification code in the virtual space in the future.
"In that way an electronic delivery will be viewed as effectuated, as delivery to the real person as in offline deliveries reaching the prosecuted usually takes a lot time, and in some cases impossible," said Shao.