A judge at China’s Supreme People’s Court has outlined further details of a commercial court it hopes will become a forum for resolving international disputes – though lawyers remain sceptical about its future popularity.

Judge Chen Ji Zhong said that he hopes the China International Commercial Court (CICC) will provide an effective means for resolving disputes. The court, a division of the SPC, the highest judicial authority in the country, has bases in Xi’an and Shenzhen.

Although the courts were formally announced in July this year, they have yet to hear cases. The SPC is currently in the final stages of formalising its rules and procedures, Judge Chen said.

The court will have eight judges, all drawn from the SPC bench. A panel of experts from jurisdictions that form part of the Belt and Road (BRI) initiative, including China and the UK, will give advise on disputes but the final decision in any case rests with the judges.

Chen said whether or-not the court becomes widely used by international parties will be dependent on parties submitting to the jurisdiction of Chinese courts.

Reacting to this, one lawyer told the Gazette it would require a number of test cases to see how decisions play out before foreign parties begin to use the court. The panel of experts, their credentials and the significance of their role would also be a key factor in whether the court became an attractive proposition for countries, they added.

Retired judge Sir William Blair is among the foreign experts who has been appointed to the expert committee, as is Donald Francis Donovan co-chair of Debevoise & Plimpton’s international disputes and public international law groups, and former Australian judge James Spigelman.

According to CICC rules, for a case to be accepted at least one party must be from outside mainland China, the amount at stake must exceed RMB300m (£33m) and the parties must accept that the court’s decision is final. As the court is a division of the SPC there is no further route of appeal.

Cases can take the form of litigation, arbitration or mediation, Chen said, adding that mediation services can be carried out by the expert panel. 

Ben Bury, partner at international firm HFW’s Hong Kong office, told the Gazette that the courts represent ‘a step towards improving access to justice in China’. However, he added: ‘I suspect that non-Chinese parties would generally prefer arbitration outside China, over litigation in China. However, if international arbitration is not available, CICCs may well be considered. The CICC will be part of the SPC and the judges who will sit in the CICC will also sit in the SPC. Therefore, by definition, they will not be independent from that court, but a part of it.’

IckWei Chong, partner at international firm Clyde & Co in Singapore, told the Gazette that another requirement stipulating that the dispute must have an actual connection with China makes the court different from equivalents operating in Singapore and Dubai.

However, he said assuming the CICC can ‘garner the confidence of potential users’ it could be well placed to resolve disputes that emerge from BRI developments. Many of those will involve developing countries with a less sophisticated legal system, he explained. He added: ‘The judges of the CICC are very able judges but the hearings will be conducted in Chinese cities.’

Bury added that the influence from the ‘distinguished’ expert committee could result in the CICC adopting ideas and concepts from other jurisdictions in judgments.