Benjamin M. Chen, Zhiyu Li, David Cai & Elliott Ash
Published: 06 May 2023
Abstract: Socialist courts are supposed to apply the law, not make it, and socialist legality denies judicial decisions any precedential status. In 2011, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court designated selected decisions as Guiding Cases to be referred to by all judges when adjudicating similar disputes. One decade on, the paucity of citations to Guiding Cases has been taken as demonstrating the incongruity of case-based adjudication and the socialist legal tradition. Citations are, however, an imperfect measure of influence. Reproduction of language uniquely traceable to Guiding Cases can also be evidence of their impact on judicial decision-making. We employ a local alignment tool to detect unattributed text reuse of Guiding Cases in local court decisions. Our findings suggest that Guiding Cases are more consequential than commonly assumed, thereby complicating prevailing narratives about the antagonism of socialist legality to case law.