Guiding Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court Concerning Civil Cases Related to COVID-19 Epidemic
*The original text is Chinese and has been translated into English for reference only. If there is any inconsistency or ambiguity between the Chinese version and the English version, the Chinese version shall prevail.
The Guiding Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues Concerning Properly Handling Civil Cases Related to COVID-19 Epidemic in Accordance with the Law (Opinions III) promulgated this time respond to the demands in trial practices, give guidance mainly on the issues of the application of laws for transportation contracts and foreign-related commercial and maritime dispute cases which are significantly affected by the epidemic, based on the earlier guiding opinions.
The Opinions III adhere to the following principles when drafted:
The first is to serve the big picture in an accurate manner.
Civil and commercial trials should be put into good use. Accurate judicial services should be provided through adjudicating epidemic-related transportation contracts and foreign-related commercial and maritime cases in accordance with the law, in order to facilitate the overall planning of the prevention and control of the epidemic, to stabilize foreign trade and investment, and to safeguard the healthy development of the shipping industry.
The second is to adhere to a problem-oriented approach.
The SPC has organized a “video seminar on foreign-related commercial maritime trials under the COVID-19 epidemic” to fully understand issues which need to be addressed of the application of laws for transportation contracts and foreign-related commercial and maritime dispute cases, in order to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of the guiding opinions.
The third is to maintain a moderately forward-looking approach.
The continuing spread of the global outbreak raises the risk of global economic decline and significantly increases the uncertainties and instability. The people’s court will become aware of various types of disputes arising out of the changes in market environment in the field of foreign-related commercial maritime trials. The problems of how to resolve disputes at an early stage, and how to promote the resumption of work and production to meet the designed output as the prevention and control of the epidemic becomes the new normal, place more stringent requirements on the adjudication of foreign-related commercial maritime cases conducted by peoples courts. The Opinions III, based on adequate research, make scientific predictions on the types of foreign-related commercial and maritime disputes that are likely to be significantly affected by the epidemic, and also propose solutions in accordance with the laws and judicial interpretations to stabilize the rational expectations of both domestic and foreign parties.
Opinions III consist of 9 sections and 19 articles, which can be categorized into four major sectors.
The first sector includes litigants, evidence of litigation, and limitation period.
This sector mainly specifies the provisions in the Guiding Opinions of the SPC on Several Issues Concerning Properly Handling Civil Cases Related to COVID-19 Epidemic (I)(Opinions I), in particular, in combination with the 2019 revised rules of judicial interpretation in civil proceedings. The Opinions I specified the procedures for the parties affected by the epidemic to extend the time limit for submission of identification certificates and the power of attorney, the application for extending the time limit for producing evidence, the presentation and cross-examination of evidence of inability to notarize foreign official documents or go through formalities of certification, the application for extending the time limit for the submission of Answer to Complaint and for the filing of appeals, the expiration of the prescription period for application for recognizing and enforcing foreign court judgments, foreign court decision or foreign arbitration awards, etc.
The second sector includes the ascertainment and application of laws.
The issues for application of law concentrate on how to understand and apply the rules of force majeure and relevant rules due to the epidemic. Considering that the specific application rules have already been specified in the Opinions I, where PRC laws are applicable, the application of the rules of force majeure shall be in accordance with the Opinions I, which is stipulated in the Opinions III
Where foreign laws are applicable, it is stipulated that statutory provisions and case laws similar to force majeure shall be understood accurately and applied correctly. It is particularly pointed out that foreign laws on force majeure shall not be surely understood with reference to their counterparts in PRC laws. The application of international treaties and the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods is also stipulated in the Opinions III.
This sector provides lower courts with guidance for the application of foreign laws and international treaties, even though few provisions are included.
The third sector includes the issues of the application of laws for transportation contract and foreign-related commercial and maritime dispute cases that are significantly affected by the epidemic.
We have learned through research that one urgent problem awaiting resolution in these cases is how to adjust and balance the rights and obligations of the parties. This sector is also about the specification of provisions on foreign-related commercial and maritime trials stipulated in the Opinions I.
The fourth sector includes the green channel for litigation and the reference for the application of the Opinions III to cases related to Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.
With reference to the fruits of the construction of the Smart Court in recent years, the Opinions III propose that for the trial of foreign-related commercial and maritime dispute cases related to the epidemic, we should actively build green channels for litigation, optimize the cross-border litigation, and improve online litigation procedures and guidelines. The people’s courts may refer to the Opinions III for the trials of epidemic-related commercial and maritime cases involving the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Macao Special Administrative Region, and the Taiwan Region.