Beijing court prepares ground for hearings in cyberspace

Updated 2018-02-01 14:41:01 China Daily

Technological developments could signal profound changes for the nation's judicial system.

Over the years, Wang Yangwei has often had to spend an entire day waiting at Beijing Haidian District People's Court to file a single case.

However, one day in December, the lawyer stayed in his office and filed more than 10 lawsuits in just one hour.

"The quicker process is due to the court's WeChat platform. I was surprised to be notified the very next day that every case had been accepted. It was amazingly efficient," he said.

"I use WeChat every day, but I never thought I would be able to use it to file cases."

The court opened the platform on Dec 25, and so far 84 cases, mostly civil, commercial or related to verdict enforcements, have been filed through it. On Jan 19, the platform was extended to all the courts in the capital.

The new system saves time for both judges and litigants, according to Zhang Zhifu, deputy chief judge of the court's case-filing department.

"Filing a case via a smartphone is just the first step; the ability to hear cases on WeChat is also on the horizon," he added.

The platform has also impressed Wu Fei, creator of Faxiansheng, or "Mr Law", a smartphone app that provides supplementary legal materials such as interpretations of rulings and explanations of various laws.

"The era of mobile or handheld courts is approaching," he said, adding that the WeChat platform is a pointer to things to come.

Wu said he is optimistic about the possibility of conducting trials in Beijing via smartphone app, and cited the rising number of legal procedures, including case filing, being put online. He noted that China's first internet court, which provides a limited service in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, is exploring new ways of providing legal assistance via social media and the internet.

However, some legal professionals have expressed concerns about the justice system's growing use of apps and online facilities.

"We need to conduct more studies to identify the types of cases suitable to be heard on WeChat and how we could maintain order during online trials," said Cheng Hu, vice-president of Beijing No 4 Intermediate People's Court.

He added that issues such as ensuring due respect for the court and public oversight of tribunals via social media should be also taken into consideration.

Convenience

According to Wang, using WeChat to submit case materials to courts and pay legal fees has liberated him from his old routine.

"The case-filing platform on WeChat leaves me more time to do other work, and I don't have to worry about traffic jams or long periods spent waiting at the court," he said.

Zhang said the new platform not only benefits litigants and lawyers, but also improves judges' efficiency.

"They can review materials and file cases while riding in an elevator or on the way to meetings," he said.

He estimated that by the end of the year, more than 40 percent of the cases at his court will be filed via WeChat.

"It's an innovation in justice," he said. "If technologies, such as facial recognition, can be developed and updated quickly and efficiently enough, we will see more calls for cases to be conducted via smartphones."

More than 3,000 kilometers from Beijing, a court in Urumqi, Xingjiang Uygur autonomous region, has occasionally experimented with hearing cases via WeChat during the past two years.

In March 2016, the court spent nearly 50 minutes hearing a case on WeChat in which the main defendant was in Shanghai.

Both parties provided their evidence and case materials, and the dispute was finally concluded via mediation.

Doubts

Despite developments, some observers have expressed doubts that proceedings could be conducted effectively online or via social media.

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