Susan Finder Article: Decoding the Supreme People’s Court’s Services and Safeguards Opinions

Writing for the 

The court’s new focus is applying party policy to judicial work

By Susan Finder

Over the past seven years, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has issued almost 30 documents  that contain the phrase “judicial services and safeguards” (???????)  followed by the title of a new or updated national strategy or major initiative.  These documents have received little attention at home or abroad, but they represent what is becoming the SPC’s most important function in the Xi Jinping era: translating Chinese Communist Party policies into guidance for lower-level courts.

Reading them closely illuminates how party policy becomes legal policy, with the possibility of eventually being incorporated into soft law, quasi-law, and even hard law. These SPC documents signal areas of judicial inconsistency to be harmonized. To some extent, they also provide advance notice of what we can expect from lower-level courts when deciding cases or taking other actions.

The “judicial services and safeguards” documents take the form of judicial opinions (??) or guiding opinions (“????), which are considered policy or normative documents. They do not discuss specific cases. These opinions fall into six broad categories, corresponding to major domestic and international strategies of the Xi era: regional integration (including the Greater Bay Area incorporating Hong Kong and Macao), the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and foreign-related commercial matters, rural revitalization, intellectual property, the environment, and the economy. Most but not all are publicly available.  These documents are written for insiders and employ a combination of court and party jargon. Many matters are implied or require knowledge about how the court and related systems work or interact to fully understand.

“Wherever the party center’s policy decisions are deployed, that’s where judicial services will be.”

Here are a few of the most important things to understand about these “services and safeguards opinions.” First, “opinions” are one type of party and state public document  (??), defined identically in party Central Committee and SPC provisions.  An opinion must focus on an “important issue” that involves the overall situation, principles, and policies encountered in the work of the courts, especially emerging issues. It must include a comprehensive and pertinent analysis of the problem and provide practical solutions.

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