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China leverages the blockchain to advance the development of “smart courts”

September 2022

By XU Jianfeng, Director-General of Information Technology Service Center of the People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China

In May 2022, the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China issued the Opinions of the Supreme People’s Court on Strengthening Blockchain Application in the Judicial Field (the “Opinions”). This is an important step for people’s courts to promote the application of key technologies represented by blockchain to further accelerate their digital transformation, raise digital justice to a higher level, and advance the development of smart rule of law. Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger technology, which is tamper-proof. It ensures that digital records and transactions are documented and distributed, but not altered in any way.

The Opinions issued by the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China in May 2022, state that the overall objective of the application of blockchain to the judicial field is to build an interconnected “blockchain alliance” that promotes the sharing of information between the people’s courts and all social sectors by 2025. (Photo: GuerrillaBuzz Crypto PR / Unsplash)

Promoting deep integration of legal processes with blockchain

China attaches great importance to the application and development of blockchain technology. President Xi Jinping has emphasized the need to expedite the development of blockchain technology and industrial innovation, and to actively advance its integration for economic and social development. China has a good foundation on which to develop and apply blockchain technology to the judicial field. Indeed, the supporting role of the technology in this field has been evolving over time.

Using the technology, the Supreme People’s Court has built a higher-level smart court system around a unified judicial blockchain platform that is national in its scope. The platform uses blockchain technology to process data, such as electronic evidence, electronic archives, enforcement investigation and control information, complaint and petition information, operation logs, and more. The platform offers people and courts at all levels across China access to a centralized system of judicial data storage and verification. Work to actively explore the application of blockchain technology in all local people’s courts is ongoing. After comprehensive investigation and extensive consultation and debate, the Supreme People’s Court formulated and issued the Opinions to further strengthen the application of blockchain in the judicial field and to leverage its role in judicial practice.

The Supreme People’s Court’s unified judicial blockchain platform offers people and courts at all levels across China access to a centralized system of judicial data storage and verification. (Photo: Courtesy of the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China)

Fostering an advanced, world-leading blockchain model with Chinese characteristics

Thirty-two items included in seven parts of the Opinions clarify the overall requirements for people’s courts to strengthen their application of blockchain in the judicial field. The Opinions also outline the requirements and measures for applying blockchain and building associated platforms. They also set out typical scenarios for the application of blockchain technology, for example to improve judicial credibility and efficiency, enhance judicial collaboration, and facilitate economic and social governance.

Application of blockchain in the judicial field: general requirements

In clarifying the general requirements for the application of blockchain in the judicial field, the Opinions state that the overall objective is to build an interconnected “blockchain alliance” that promotes the sharing of information between the people’s courts and all social sectors. The aim is to establish such an alliance by 2025.

In this process, blockchain technology will be applied comprehensively to diverse dispute resolution, litigation services, trial and enforcement processes, and judicial administration. Moreover, the interoperable judicial blockchain alliance will become an integral part of China’s economic and social systems, fostering an advanced and world-leading blockchain model for the judicial field that is adapted to the Chinese context.

Basic principles of the “blockchain alliance”

In terms of basic principles, the Opinions identify four principles around which the blockchain alliance is to be developed:

  1. pursuing law-based coordination and emphasizing collaboration and interconnectivity;
  2. upholding openness and sharing and prioritizing standards;
  3. underlining application and valuing innovation-based development; and
  4. ensuring security and reliability and highlighting orderly progress.

Requirements for building blockchain platforms

The Opinions make clear that in building their blockchain platforms, the people’s courts are required to:

  1. strengthen the top-level design of the blockchain application;
  2. advance capacity building constantly to promote the interoperability of the technology to enable greater collaboration;
  3. enhance the technical capabilities of the judicial blockchain;
  4. build an Internet-based judicial blockchain verification platform; and
  5. establish and optimize a standard system.

The Opinions propose the creation of an open and shared judicial blockchain platform among people’s courts, and the boosted development of an interoperable alliance between the judicial blockchain platform and all other walks of life to enhance synergies on an ongoing basis. According to the Opinions, the availability of a judicial blockchain verification platform will enable all parties to verify the authenticity of data relating to mediation, electronic evidence, litigation documents and other judicial data.

The Supreme People’s Court has built a higher-level smart court system around a unified judicial blockchain platform that is national in its scope.

Application of the blockchain in the judicial field: typical scenarios

The Opinions outline four typical scenarios for the application of blockchain technology with a view to expanding its use in the judicial field.

First, the Opinions propose making use of blockchain technology’s ability to generate tamper-proof data to enhance judicial credibility by providing technical guarantees for the security of judicial data, the trustworthiness of electronic evidence, compliance with enforcement processes, and the authority of judicial instruments.

Second, the Opinions propose that the application of blockchain will optimize business processes and improve judicial efficiency, given the technology’s ability to:

  1. enable the circulation and application of case-filing information;
  2. connect mediation and trial procedures;
  3. link trial and enforcement procedures, and
  4. enhance the efficiency of enforcement procedures.

Third, the Opinions propose that blockchain connectivity will enhance judicial collaboration and facilitate processes, such as the verification of lawyers’ qualifications, collaboration between legal entities in the handling of cases, and cross-departmental collaboration on enforcement.

Fourth, the Opinions propose that the use of the mutual recognition and trustworthiness capabilities of a fully integrated blockchain alliance will facilitate economic and social governance. In this way, its application will support efficient protection of intellectual property, the improvement of the business environment and data development and utilization.

The aim of the Opinions is to actively promote the formation of an interoperable and collaborative mechanism that is underpinned by blockchain platforms for intellectual property, market regulation, property registration, transactions, data ownership, online data trading, financial institutions and relevant government departments.

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