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March 10, 2009 1:54 PM

LETTER FROM ASIA: Litigation Activity in China Is Growing

Posted by Anthony Lin

Litigation activity in China is growing at a rapid pace, according to a report issued Tuesday by the nation's top judge.

Wang Shengjun, president of the Supreme People's Court, described the increase in court cases in a speech to the National People's Congress. Highlights of Wang's remarks were provided beforehand to the official Xinhua news agency.

Chinese courts handled 10.71 million cases of various types in 2008, up 11 percent from the year before. Of these, 768,130 were criminal cases; 159,020 individuals received sentences of more than five years, life imprisonment, or death.

There were 1.14 million cases involving various financial disputes, a 15 percent increase from 2007. Fraud cases, statistics for which include both embezzlement and the production of substandard food and drugs, were up 13 percent from last year.

Even greater increases were seen in labor disputes, which jumped 94 percent to 286,221 cases, and disputes involving health care, housing and consumer rights, which were up 45 percent to 576,013 cases. Intellectual property cases were up 33 percent, with Chinese courts concluding 27,876 of them.

In some cases, the increase in activity is likely tied to changes in the law. For instance, China introduced a new labor law last year. The tainted-milk scandal also called public attention to the courts, though suits filed against the offending dairies were not accepted by the courts until last week.

China still has a ways to go before catching up to the level of litigiousness in the United States. According to figures cited by Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court chief justice Margaret Marshall in a speech last month before the American Bar Association House of Delegates, some 47.3 million cases were filed in U.S. state courts last year, not including traffic offenses, with another 384,000 hitting the federal docket.

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