China sets up first court for Net-linked spats

A judge at the Hangzhou Internet court last Friday presiding over a dispute on online dissemination of information. The court allows litigants to handle a lawsuit entirely online.
A judge at the Hangzhou Internet court last Friday presiding over a dispute on online dissemination of information. The court allows litigants to handle a lawsuit entirely online.PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING • China has set up its first court specialising in the handling of Internet-related disputes in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, where many technology enterprises are located, amid the rapid growth of online purchases and financial activities in the country.

The Hangzhou Court of the Internet is responsible for hearing six types of civil and administrative Internet-related cases in the city, such as those involving online intellectual property rights and e-commerce disputes. It will also handle other Web-related cases designated by higher courts.

"The establishment of the court is to meet the growing legal demand from litigants. It will also help the public to solve online disputes more effectively," said Mr Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People's Court. He said the new court will play an important role in maintaining a safe Internet and must provide good legal service to litigants.

A key feature of the court is that it allows litigants to handle a lawsuit entirely online. From case filing to the court hearing, litigants do not have to go to the court in person, said Mr Zhu Shenyuan, vice-president of the Zhejiang Provincial High People's Court.

"Our aim is to make court hearings keep pace with the fast development of cyberspace and to explore new ways of hearing lawsuits so that it can be expanded across the country," Mr Zhu said.

People can register at the court's website - which has an English-language version - and then provide evidence and materials.

Defendants will be notified via text messages if the court files the case. Judges will inform both parties of the trial time, and then those involved can log in to the website's trial page, which uses a remote video system.

The new Internet court is a district-level court, and if litigants disagree with the verdict, they can appeal to the city's intermediate people's court, Mr Zhu said.

Hangzhou is home to technology firms such as Alibaba, which is behind the Alipay mobile payment and the Taobao online marketplace.

The city has seen a soaring number of online disputes in recent years, said Mr Cheng Jianle, deputy director of the provincial high court's research office. Hangzhou courts handled about 10,000 cases related to e-commerce last year, up from about 600 in 2013.

A trial operation of the Internet court, guided by the top court, began in May. As of last Tuesday, it had accepted 2,605 cases since May, of which 1,444 have been concluded. The average time it took the hearings to be conducted online was 25 minutes.

In the court's litigation service centre, a digital screen showed that more than 1,200 of the accepted cases were related to defective online products, followed by conflicts caused by online piracy and e-commerce contracts.

"The online hearings make our work more transparent and facilitate litigants," the Internet court's president Du Qian said, adding that technology support will be enhanced to prevent network failures.

Law professor Zhou Hanhua at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the court represents progress. Professor Yang Ming, deputy director of the Internet Law Centre at Peking University, said authenticating evidence provided online needs further study.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'China sets up first court for Net-linked spats'. Print Edition | Subscribe