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Guiding Opinions of the Supreme People's Court on Unifying the Application of Laws and Strengthening the Search of Similar Cases (Trial)

(Published on 27 July 2020)

In order to unify the application of the law, to improve judicial credibility, and in consideration of the trial practice, the following opinions are put forward on the work of similar case searches of the people's courts.

1. “Similar Cases” mentioned in this Opinion refer to cases that are similar to the pending cases in terms of basic facts, key points of disputes, and application of law, and judgments made by the People's Court on such cases have become effective.

2. “Similar Cases” searches shall be conducted when the People's Court handling cases with one of the following situations:

    (1) the case is intended to be submitted to Professional Judges Committee or adjudication committee for discussion;

    (2) there's no clear judicial rule or unified judicial rules have not yet been formed;

    (3) the president of the court or the head of the division requires to conduct “Similar Cases” searches in accordance with their trial supervision and management authorities;

    (4) other situations that similar case searches are required.

3. The judges handling the cases shall use the China Judicial Documents Network, the Trial Case Database and etc. as database to conduct the “Similar Cases” searches, and shall be responsible for the authenticity and accuracy of the searches.

4. Generally, the scope of “Similar Cases” searches shall cover: 

    (1) Guiding cases issued by the Supreme People's Court;

    (2) Typical cases and cases with legally effective judgments issued by the Supreme People's Court;

    (3) Reference cases and cases with legally effective judgments issued by the High People's Court of this province (autonomous region, municipality directly under the Central Government);

    (4) Cases with legally effective judgments judged by the higher level people's court and by the people's court.

In addition to the guiding cases, priority in search shall be given to the cases in the latest three years; if a similar case is located via searches in accordance with the afore-listed sequence, no further search is required. 

5. The “Similar Cases” searches can adopt keywords search, correlative law search, correlative case search and other methods.

6. The judges handling the case shall compare and identify the similarities between the pending case and the cases in search results to determine whether the cases constitute “Similar Cases”. 

7. For cases that “Similar Cases” searches shall be conducted as stipulated in this opinion, the judges handling the case shall provide explanations on the “Similar Cases” search in the deliberations of the collegiate panel, the discussion of the Professional Judges Committee and the hearing report, or prepare specific report regarding “Similar Cases” search. Such documents shall be kept on file for reference.

8. The explanations or the reports on “Similar Cases” search shall be objective, comprehensive and accurate, covering the personnel, time, database, method and results of the search, the key points of the judgments of the located cases and the main disputes in the pending case. Explanations shall also be provided on whether the located similar cases are adopted as reference and how the located similar cases are adopted as reference.

9. If guiding cases are located in “Similar Cases” search, the people's court shall refer to the guiding cases when making the judgment, except for the judgments of the guiding cases are in confliction with new laws, administrative regulations, or judicial interpretations or have been replaced by new guiding cases.

If similar cases, aside from the guiding cases, are retrieved, the people's court can use them as reference for making judgments.

10. Where the public prosecution agencies, the parties involves in the case, their defenders, and agents ad litem submit guiding cases in their prosecution (defending) grounds, the people's court shall respond to whether to use the guiding cases as reference and provide explanations in the reasoning of the judgment documents; as for other similar cases submitted in the prosecution (defending) grounds, the people's court may respond by interpretations in court or by other means.

11. If there are inconsistencies in the application of laws in the retrieved similar cases, the people's courts may consider factors such as the level of the court, the time of the adjudication, whether they have been discussed by the adjudication committee and other factors, and make the decisions through the law application dispute settlement mechanism, in accordance with the provisions of the Supreme People's Court on the establishment of a law application dispute resolution mechanism and other provisions.

12. People's courts at all levels shall actively promote the search of “Similar Cases” and strengthen the development of search technique and the corresponding application training, in order to improve the intelligence and precision of the similar case search.

The high people's courts shall make full use of modern information technology to build trial case database, to lay solid foundation for the construction of a nationwide unified and authoritative trial case database.

13. People's courts at all levels shall summarize and sort out the application of “Similar Cases” searches on a regularly basis, and then make the results public in their own courts or courts in their jurisdictions in a certain form, so as to provide references for judges in handling cases. The results shall also be reported to the trial management department of the people's court at the higher level for the record.

14. These opinions shall be implemented on a trial basis since July 31, 2020.