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Chinese court moves to streamline admission of WeChat and QQ chats in civil disputes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 10:02pm

Conversations on WeChat and QQ, the dominant messaging apps operated by Chinese tech giant Tencent, will soon be admissible as evidence for civil disputes without the need for notarization, according to new rules from the Nansha People’s Court of Guangdong Free Trade Zone.

With millions of people communicating via WeChat and QQ every day, allowing these messaging platforms to be part of the court record could help determine judgments in some cases, according to legal experts.

Nansha Court, which on Wednesday issued a document titled internet Electronic Data Evidence Proof and Certification Procedures, is the first court in Guangdong province to allow direct presentation of internet chat records without notarization, which is a costly, complicated, and lengthy procedure.

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Paul Haswell, a partner at law firm Pinsent Mason, said WeChat and QQ chats – as well as WhatsApp messages and emails – are all admissible as evidence in mainland Chinese courts. “This is important in both civil and criminal cases as more and more communication is being conducted through these methods,” he said.

In the new guidelines, the Nansha court gives a detailed explanation of how WeChat communications can be presented as evidence. WeChat, known as Wexin in China, has around 1 billion monthly active users and QQ, another Tencent personal messaging service platform, has about 800 million active users.

Under the new court rules the parties – if they decide to use WeChat records as evidence – first need to log into their WeChat accounts to prove their authenticity.

The new regulations effectively improve the efficiency of the trial process by reducing the time each party has to spend on legal procedures, Li Sheng, deputy director of the Nansha court, was quoted saying in Legal Daily.

However, some legal experts have raised concerns over using WeChat records in court because some users do not use their real name for account registration.

“WeChat content identification [is also difficult] because the chat records are easily forged or deleted,” said Sun Hao, president of the Commercial Court of the Nansha Court, according to Legal Daily.

In the US, legal experts say a person’s social media posts could be used against them in a civil court case, especially for workers’ compensation claims where the claimant has posted photos online showing them doing physical activity after the accident.

Last September the UK government began looking into tightening up the country’s contempt of court laws to include social media posts that relate to current criminal trials.

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Voice recordings, including those made via messaging platforms, have been used in some court cases in China, but have still required notarization. In the case of Nansha court, cases involving electronic data evidence increased 130 per cent year on year in 2017. In the first half of this year, the Nansha court handled 98 commercial disputes that involved electronic data evidence, up 50 per cent from the same period last year. In some cases, WeChat records may be the only evidence the two parties can present to court, according to Nansha court.

It is not the first time Chinese authorities have introduced laws allowing online voice recordings to be admitted in court. In 2015, the Civil Procedure Law of China stated that digital voice messages received or stored on social media platforms could be presented as evidence in court. However, this law was designed as part of China’s censorship controls to monitor and silence public opinion, not for solving civil disputes.