The ECLR Hub
Published online: September 2023
Guiding Cases no. 19 and no. 24 both concern traffic accident liability disputes and are among those most often referred to.
What are Guiding Cases?
As a matter of doctrine, cases are not a source of law in socialist legal systems. In the People’s Republic of China, judges are generally not required to adhere to or cite prior judicial decisions. These principles have, however, been qualified—some say violated—by the Supreme People’s Court’s designation of Guiding Cases to be followed by all courts when adjudicating similar disputes.
The Guiding Case (指导性案例) system was introduced in 2011 “[i]n order to summarize adjudication experiences, unify the application of law, enhance adjudication quality, and safeguard judicial impartiality” (Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court Concerning Work on Case Guidance, 2010, English here). Guiding Cases are based on judgements selected from courts nationwide and address a wide variety of legal topics ranging from breach of contract to homicide to unfair competition to liability for traffic accidents. A Guiding Case consists of seven key sections, namely “Title”, “Keywords”, “Main Points of the Adjudication”, “Related Legal Rules”, “Basic Facts of the Case”, “Results of the Adjudication”, and “Reasons for the Adjudication”. Beginning in 2015, the “Main Points of the Adjudication” of Guiding Cases – abstract rules distilled by the adjudication committee of the SPC from the original judgments – must be referred to (参照) by courts at all levels when adjudicating similar cases (Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the ‘Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court Concerning Work on Case Guidance’, 2015, English here).
Guiding Cases have therefore been characterized by some as “a new source of ‘judge-made law’ in China” (Liu 2021) and ‘the remarkable terminus a quo’ of the trend ‘toward embracing case law’ (Wang 2020). The true impact of Guiding Cases on judicial practice has however been called into question by many legal scholars and commentators. Previous studies almost uniformly find that citations to Guiding Cases are sparse, and many Guiding Cases are not cited at all (Daum 2017; Zhang 2018). The ‘extremely low’ incidence of citations is taken as symptomatic of ‘the dysfunction of the [G]uiding [C]ase system as a type of case law’ (Wang 2019) and as proof of the incongruity of case-based adjudication in China (Ahl 2014; Zuo & Chen 2015; Finder 2017; Jia 2016).
How to measure their influence?
However, citations might not be an accurate measure of the influence of cases, especially in jurisdictions that do not recognize judicial decisions as a source of law...
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