London, United Kingdom – Recent amendments to China’s law on civil procedure signal a positive step towards the country’s commitment to the rule of law, particularly in matters related to foreign affairs. As of January 1, changes to the Civil Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China have come into effect, reflecting China’s proactive approach to improving its legal system and establishing a more credible international judiciary. These amendments highlight China’s dedication to aligning with global private international law standards, marking a significant milestone in the development of a comprehensive foreign-related rule of law framework.
The Civil Procedure Law serves as the fundamental procedural guideline for civil litigation in China, with specific chapters focusing on foreign-related civil procedures. While the recent modifications mainly concern foreign-related litigation procedures and address key practical concerns, only a small portion of the domestic procedure has been revised.
The amendments to the foreign-related chapter were prompted by several factors, including the increasing number of foreign-related civil and commercial disputes heard by Chinese courts due to the country’s expanding foreign economic and trade activities. These disputes have brought issues such as jurisdiction conflicts and parallel litigation to the forefront of judicial practice, highlighting the need for clearer rules.
One notable highlight of the new law is the improvement of rules related to service of process in foreign-related cases. Previously, courts faced challenges in serving process on parties residing outside of China. Under the revised Civil Procedure Law, litigation agents can accept service without the authorization of the involved party, expanding their ability to receive documents. This change aims to prevent parties from evading the judicial process by maliciously excluding service of authority. Additionally, the amended law expands the scope of subjects to be served and improves the efficiency of service in foreign-related trials.
The amendments also address jurisdiction issues by replacing the requirement for a “physical connection” between the parties and China with an “appropriate connection.” This change may increase the likelihood of parties selecting Chinese courts to resolve their disputes, broadening the jurisdiction of Chinese courts. The provision aligns with the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements 2005, suggesting a potential future ratification of the convention by China. However, the practical application of these rules requires careful legal interpretation by judges to ensure consistency and fairness.
Moreover, the revised legislation introduces new rules for handling parallel proceedings and incorporates the doctrine of forum non conveniens. This doctrine, widely recognized under the common law, allows courts to determine jurisdiction based on appropriateness and substantial injustice. These additions aim to enhance the equal protection of procedural rights for both Chinese and foreign parties involved in international commercial disputes.
While the amendments represent a positive step toward improving the foreign-related rule of law in China, some challenges remain. The current civil litigation procedures in China lack flexibility and discretion, leaving minimal room for judges to exercise their judgment. Unlike the common law system, where judges consider relevant facts alongside legislative rules, Chinese courts rely solely on the provisions of the law when determining jurisdiction. Balancing party autonomy and judicial power poses another challenge, as China’s pursuit of simplicity and efficiency might clash with its traditional ex officio doctrine.
Nevertheless, the Chinese government’s emphasis on building the rule of law in foreign-related matters demonstrates its commitment to optimize the international business environment and enhance the rule of law. By improving the predictability and efficiency of dispute resolution, Chinese courts aim to gain greater international credibility and integrate into global private international law development. The recent amendments serve as a vital step in the construction of China’s foreign-related rule of law framework.