Time limits to enforce rulings are established
Ng Tze-wei and Lillian Yang
Top court fills glaring hole in civil law by setting deadlines for effecting judgments
The Supreme People's Court has filled a glaring hole in the country's civil law by providing time limits for the enforcement of court judgments.
Under mainland law, the winner of a lawsuit is required to apply to a separate execution division of the courts to have the terms of the judgment carried out.
The Supreme Court issued new rules on Sunday specifying time limits for the execution of judgments and the duration of different stages of the process.
The rules say all judgments involving a handover of property should generally be enforced within six months. They also set time limits for the execution of arbitration awards and state how long a court should take when investigating a losing party's financial situation.
The new rules further provide that the court should take prompt measures to prevent transferring, hiding, selling or damaging properties during the enforcement period, and that the court should host hearings if the party who applied to enforce the judgment is not satisfied with the execution.
Shanghai lawyer Yan Yiming said he believed this was the first time the court had publicly announced a timeframe for the enforcement of judgments.
'In the past, the proportion of execution and completion [of cases] was very low,' he said.
The enforcement of judgments has been the weakest link in China's judicial procedures. Execution judges enjoy total discretion over the execution of all verdicts, sentences and legal documents and this has made that division prone to delays and corruption.
In the latter half of last year, the judicial system was entangled in a chain of scandals implicating a dozen judges, including heads of the execution divisions of at least two courts. In some property dispute settlements, a number of execution judges took commissions of up to 15 per cent from monies recovered.
'Execution is the key stage in the realisation of justice and I think the new rules are a big improvement,' said Laurence Chen, vice-chairman of the Guangdong Lawyers' Association. However, such time limits were just guidelines, the Dongguan-based commercial litigation lawyer said.
'The use of the words 'in general' shows that the new rules do not provide a party remedies if a court runs over the time limits,' Mr Chen said, adding that as the rules stood, a party could only rely on the internal monitoring mechanism of the court to make sure that the new time limits were followed.
The new rules on execution time limits were issued together with new rules requiring the execution divisions to provide more information on their operations, such as how they set execution fees and how they auctioned a losing party's property.
Joint issuance of the two measures indicated the importance of both transparency and efficiency in ensuring a fair legal system, Mr Chen said.