China Tightens Grip on Court Data, Sparking Transparency and Accountability Fears

by | Jan 7, 2024

China has recently implemented measures that restrict public access to important judicial information, raising concerns about transparency and the availability of justice in the country. These measures, put in place under President Xi Jinping’s administration, have significantly reduced the ability of the Chinese public to obtain information about court judgments and legal proceedings. This has led to questions about the future of transparency within the nation’s judicial system.

One main source of information, China Judgements Online, has seen a decrease in published documents in recent years. This has caused worry among lawyers and legal analysts who rely on the database for due diligence and a comprehensive understanding of legal precedents. However, concerns escalated when the Supreme People’s Court of China launched the National Court Judgements Database, leading to speculation that the current information may no longer be accessible for free.

The lack of transparency surrounding the new database, along with potential limitations on public access, has deepened concerns about the decreasing openness of China’s judicial system. Notably, there has been a significant decrease in the number of judgments made available to the public, with only 30% published in 2022 compared to over 70% in previous years. This reduction leaves legal practitioners and the public with limited insights into the inner workings of the Chinese legal system.

Adding to the concern is the introduction of “targeted rectification measures” for China Judgements Online by the Supreme People’s Court in July 2021. The court’s failure to respond to inquiries about these measures further fuels anxieties about the future availability of judicial information.

These restrictions on public access to judicial information are not isolated incidents within China. President Xi Jinping’s administration has also enacted laws against espionage and data security designed to tighten cross-border controls. These laws have significant implications for international businesses operating in China, as they heavily rely on China Judgements Online for due diligence and navigating the legal landscape.

The implications of these measures extend beyond legal practitioners and businesses. The limited access to information hampers the public’s ability to understand and engage in discussions about important legal issues, hindering the development of an informed society. Critics argue that limiting access to judicial information undermines the principles of transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.

The decision of the Chinese government to restrict public access to judicial information raises significant concerns about the direction of the nation’s judicial system. As the number of published court documents reached its lowest level in a decade last year, it becomes increasingly important to scrutinize the motives behind these changes and their impact on the Chinese legal landscape.

With limited access to court judgments and an uncertain future for China Judgements Online, the public, legal professionals, and international businesses must grapple with the implications of a less transparent judicial system. The need for transparency and accountability remains crucial to ensure the fair administration of justice and safeguard the principles of the rule of law in China. It is imperative for the Chinese government to address these concerns and prioritize the openness and accessibility of the judicial system.