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Retaining Judicial Professionalism: The New Guiding Cases Mechanism of the Supreme People's Court*

  • Björn Ahl (a1)


In 2011 and 2012, the Supreme People's Court (SPC) published its first “guiding cases.” Guiding cases serve as decision-making models that must be taken into account by lower courts when deciding similar cases. This study argues that the establishment of a national formal legal mechanism to improve consistency in adjudication across jurisdictions and geographical boundaries will strengthen judicial professionalism. The guiding cases system provides the SPC with an instrument to steer adjudication in lower courts discreetly, thereby allowing it to exercise significant influence over legal developments. Given the complexity of cases, compared to law set out in statute, non-lawyers may have tremendous difficulty in understanding and assessing the effects of guiding cases; this in turn acts as a protective mechanism against extra-legal interference. The reform is an example of the SPC's delicate manoeuvring in order to retain judicial professionalism in a hostile yet politically conservative environment. It reflects an attempt by the SPC to strengthen its position vis-à-vis other actors of the party-state and to consolidate the judiciary's function as an adjudicative institution that works on the basis of formal legal mechanisms.



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The author thanks Pilar Czoske, Claire Wilson, Wang Chunxiao, Zhang Dongyang and Zhao Jin for their valuable research assistance. He gratefully acknowledges that work on this article was supported by the China–EU School of Law as part of the research project, “Legal transfer and rule of law in China.”



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Retaining Judicial Professionalism: The New Guiding Cases Mechanism of the Supreme People's Court*

  • Björn Ahl (a1)


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