China’s Promotion of Case-Based Legal Reasoning in the BRICS


By: Dr. Mei Gechlik / On: June 26, 2024

China’s Promotion of Case-Based Legal Reasoning in the BRICS
Images: George Hodan, Judge Gavel;
Maliz Ong, Black and White Brick Wall (

In 2018, I, together with two managing editors of Stanford Law School’s China Guiding Cases Project, co-authored an article titled Propagation of a Case Culture in China and Potentially Beyond (China Law Connect, Issue 2 (Sept. 2018)).  The article refers to the July 2018 Belt and Road Forum for Legal Cooperation, at which Chinese Foreign Minister WANG Yi gave an important speech.  He said:

We believe rules and rule of law are essential for [the Belt and Road Initiative] to develop in the world. They are also the safety valve against uncertainties and challenges.

[emphasis added]

Welcoming this statement, my co-authors and I firmly believed that Foreign Minister Wang’s appeal would work more effectively outside China if the country, which has not been known for having a strong tradition of applying case-based legal reasoning, could demonstrate “[its commitment] to the rule of law at home by, for example, showing the uniform application of law in judicial cases”.  We proceeded to analyze how 96 Guiding Cases, de facto binding cases released by China’s Supreme People’s Court available at the time, had been referenced in 1,281 subsequent cases decided by courts across the country.  In our article, we drew this conclusion:

[T]he preliminary success of [Guiding Cases] seems to have provided fertile ground for the propagation of a case culture in China and, given the country’s eagerness to increase its presence around the world, this culture may have a chance to be propagated elsewhere.

[emphasis added]

“Just such an opportunity for China to propagate a culture of applying case-based legal reasoning in the BRICS arose in mid-June […].”

Just such an opportunity for China to propagate a culture of applying case-based legal reasoning in the BRICS arose in mid-June, when the BRICS Chief Justices Forum was held.  Among other topics, participants discussed “ways to ensure the uniformity of judicial practice” and “judicial protection for the rights of citizens and investors”.

China & the BRICS Chief Justices Forum

At the BRICS Chief Justices Forum, ZHANG Jun, President of China’s Supreme People’s Court, delivered a speech titled Improving the Mechanism for Unifying the Application of Law to Safeguard Judicial Impartiality and Efficiency.  He shared China’s experiences, with a focus on Guiding Cases and the Case Database of the People’s Courts (人民法院案例库; “Case Database”), which I discussed a few months ago, when the establishment of the public database was first announced.

Designed to help judges and lawyers efficiently identify prior cases similar to pending disputes they are handling, the Case Database is now in operation.  Apart from Guiding Cases (now, 229 in total), the Case Database also contains a few thousand “Reference Cases” (参考案例), which are cases with exemplary value selected by the Supreme People’s Court through a rigorous process engaging judges, other legal experts, and the general public.  The selection process of Reference Cases as well as their application are stated in the Procedures for the Construction and Operation of the Case Database of the People’s Courts (effective as of May 8, 2024; “Case Database Rules”), while Guiding Cases continue to be regulated by a separate set of rules issued years ago.

In his speech presented at the BRICS Chief Justices Forum, President Zhang explained that the Case Database helps accomplish a few important goals, including “providing guidance for judges in handling cases”, “providing materials for the public to learn about the law”, and “providing more information for the international community to understand China’s judicial system”.

China’s Case Database & the BRICS

“Other members of the BRICS will likely find China’s Case Database valuable for three major reasons.”

Other members of the BRICS will likely find China’s Case Database valuable for three major reasons.

First, compared with legislation, cases can, in general, better illustrate the actual operation of the Chinese legal system, which would otherwise appear to be composed of incomprehensible webs of legal rules issued by different types of authorities at different levels of China’s political structure.

Second, the cases included in the Case Database, i.e., Guiding Cases and Reference Cases, are designated with special significance, making the database an indispensable tool.  According to the Case Database Rules, Reference Cases and their key principles, i.e., “Adjudication Essentials”, can be explicitly cited in judgments of similar subsequent cases in order to substantiate judges’ reasoning.  This is a breakthrough, as, prior to the issuance of the Case Database Rules, only Guiding Cases could be so cited.  Consequently, BRICS parties having current or potential legal relationships with their Chinese counterparts can leverage the cases in the Case Database—a few thousand in total covering a wide range of legal issues—to better predict the outcomes of legal disputes arising from these legal relationships.  With this greater level of predictability, all parties will be able to reasonably decide whether they should proceed to litigation or arbitration, or opt for more informal and less costly methods, such as negotiation or mediation, to resolve their differences.

Third, many members of the BRICS whose legal systems are still evolving can learn from the Case Database, as China seems to be able to draw on Anglo-American precedent systems’ strengths to complement a legal tradition that is primarily based on statutes.

China’s propagation of a culture of applying case-based legal reasoning in the BRICS may lead to more “uniformity in delivering justice” and “promot[ion] of trust and cooperation” within the group—goals stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his remarks at the BRICS Chief Justices Forum.  If this occurs, both China and the entire BRICS group should be recognized for their efforts to further the development of the international rule of law.

  • The citation of this article is: Dr. Mei Gechlik, China’s Promotion of Case-Based Legal Reasoning in the BRICS, SINOTALKS.COM®, In Brief No. 45, June 26, 2024,
    The original, English version of this article was edited by Nathan Harpainter.  The information and views set out in this article are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the work or views of SINOTALKS®. ↩︎