Government
Senior judge anticipates public interest litigation precedents
Last Updated: 2013-10-31 09:46 | Xinhua
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A judge with China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) said here Wednesday that courts will work with consumer rights organizations to feel their way through early cases of public interest litigation, after a newly revised law paved the way for such legal actions.

The law on consumer rights and interests, revised by China's top legislature on Friday, adopted public interest litigation into cases involving the collective interests of consumers.

It regulates that only the China Consumers' Association (CCA) and its provincial branches can initiate such litigation.

However, Zhang Jinxian, a senior SPC judge, acknowledged in an interview with Xinhua that, without precedents, it will take time to develop a system for hearing these cases.

"Public interest litigation is very new to Chinese courts. We only have a general description in laws instead of applicable judicial procedure," he said.

The SPC has been working on a standard procedure that guides judges on how to hear such cases, according to Zhang.

"We would like to work closely with the CCA and figure it out as soon as possible," he added.

Jiang Tianbo, the CCA secretary-general, told Xinhua that the CCA is also looking forward to a judicial explanation on public interest litigation.

"There are a number of questions that need answers. For example, what can be defined as a violation of collective consumer rights? Or in which cases should the CCA initiate litigation? Who would cover the legal cost? How should consumers be compensated if we win," Jiang said. "We do not have any precedent to follow."

Public interest litigation was first written into an August 2012 amendment to the Civil Procedure Law. It entitles agencies or organizations determined by law to bring litigation against those whose acts undermine public welfare by polluting or infringing on consumers' interests.

The consumer rights law went on with a more detailed regulation.

Although some lawmakers have argued that more organizations should be allowed to represent consumers, the law is still a breakthrough, said Prof. Liu Junhai, with the Law School at Renmin University of China.

"Sometimes, a single consumer is too weak to fight for his rights against a powerful corporation and does not have resources to organize a group litigation," Liu said. "Consumers' associations can step in and represent a large number of people in court."

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