The Evolving Case Law System in China

On 26 September 2023, a hybrid seminar titled “The Evolving Case Law System in China” was jointly hosted by the Finnish China Law Center and GENIAL. The event featured Qiao Liu, Professor and Deputy Director of the Centre for Chinese and Comparative Law, School of Law, City University of Hong Kong as the speaker, and  Jaakko Husa, Full Professor in Law and Globalisation at the Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki presided as the chair of the seminar.

Professor Qiao Liu at the Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki, 26 September 2023

Professor Liu described judges making law as an inevitable trend in China which arises from the abstractness of the provisions of laws, the imperative to to maintain consistency in judicial decisions as well as the vertical control exercised by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) over lower courts.

Professor Liu elaborated that the SPC is empowered to select, edit and re-write its own judgments and cases from lower levels and publish them as guiding cases. All guiding cases are approved by the SPC Judicial Committee and adopt a defined structure and style. People’s courts of all levels should canzhao [参照,] guiding cases when deciding similar cases. He emphasized that this entails that the people’s courts should not only consider but also follow these guiding cases. The guiding cases, however, function differently from precedents in common law systems.  While the people’s courts may cite guiding cases in the legal reasoning section of judgment, only essential points/rules section of a guiding case should be canzhaoed. The application of guiding cases is increasing, yet judges frequently refrain from expressly citing them within their judgments.

In addition, cases and SPC judgments published on the SPC Gazette, although lacking legal binding, can have influence in judicial practice.  The extent of this influence varies depending on specific circumstances. Not only the cases published in the SPC Gazette, but  judgments decided by higher-level or specialized courts also carry weight. These cases may assume special significance within a field of law. For instance, an earlier decision of a High People’s Court may directly impact the decision of an Intermediate People’s Court below, or a decision of a specialized court may be viewed as persuasive authority on legal issues falling within its area of expertise.


Professor Qiao Liu and Professor Jaakko Husa at the Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki, 26 September 2023