The court has the jurisdiction to handle certain types of internet-related cases, such as disputes over online shopping, service contracts, lending, copyrights and domains.
According to David Ettinger, a partner at Keller and Heckman LLP Shanghai office, the number of complaints reflected Chinese consumers’ shopping habits.
He told us: “China now has over 800 million Internet users and more and more consumers are choosing to purchase foods online through e-commerce platforms."
“Thus, it is not surprising that the number of cases involving online food sales has increased.”
These cases involve the unlawful use of food additives, false labelling, misleading product names and exaggerated function claims, Ettinger said.
During a briefing held by the Beijing Internet Court in June 2019, some typical food-related problems reported were illegal ‘daigou’ sales – which is where Chinese shoppers overseas buy goods to sell on the e-commerce market back home.
Others included the addition of illegal non-food ingredients illegally, pre-packaged food labelling issues (e.g. missing product date and production license information on the label), unlawful food additives, counterfeit goods, violation of the imported food requirements and the publication of false information.
The need for Internet courts
With China’s online activity growing rapidly, Internet courts are gaining in popularity as officials and consumers seek to hit back against unlawful practices.
The Supreme People’s Court of China has established three Internet Courts so far, in Hangzhou, Beijing and Guangzhou.
“The concept of an Internet Court may likely bring efficiency to certain types of litigation, as it is more convenient for litigants. For example, the litigants do not need to go to court in person from the case filing to the hearing,” said Ettinger.
“The Internet Court also may address the increasing workload and burden on the judiciary, and will almost certainly significantly reduce the cost of litigation. Parties may conduct litigation anytime and anywhere through online platforms, reducing transit time and costs."
Reporting a case
Ettinger shared with FoodNavigator-Asia the process of the Internet Court handling a food-related case from start to finish.
Firstly the judge will conduct a preliminary assessment of the case and send his verdict to the parties via text message.
There is then the chance to reach a settlement via mediation, before progressing to a trial if this is unsuccessful.
The entire trial process is conducted online and recorded.
If the parties decline to accept the court’s judgement, they have the right to appeal.
Into the future
It is widely expected that more courts will be established, with Ettinger suggesting Shanghai could be the next location.
“Shanghai Changning People’s Court has established an Internet Courtroom to deal with Internet-related cases in 2018. The Court actively explored to use the “Internet mode” to address disputes, innovated the trial mode for Internet cases, and formed the “Changning Model” for Internet disputes. While there has not been any public announcements about this, it would not be surprising to see the next Internet Court in Shanghai.”
For other countries, “China's Internet Courts may provide a model to consider when developing their own scheme to handle certain online disputes,” he said.
“So I believe it will be interesting to see how this new concept of ‘e-litigation’ spreads to other parts of Asia and beyond.”