Dodging Decisions: How Chinese Courts Avoid Responsibility
This talk examines how Chinese courts, in particular trial courts, avoid making decisions in contentious cases and diffuse responsibility for decisions they do make. We argue that judicial avoidance is a key element of the institutional design of China’s courts. We use computational tools to examine four different types of judicial avoidance in administrative cases: hot potato rules, door slamming, kicking it upstairs, and safety in numbers. Although all four techniques are used to avoid cases that may result in unrest, particularly in land disputes, we also highlight differences among the strategies. We suggest that judges refer cases to adjudication committees to avoid pressure from local governments. In contrast, judges enlist large panels to avoid pressure from litigants, particularly in cases with large numbers of plaintiffs. We also show how courts adapt to new legal rules to devise new ways to avoid responsibility, by shifting the reason they give for rejecting case filings. Judicial avoidance continues to be a key element of judicial behavior even after reforms designed to make it easier to bring administrative cases to court.

Benjamin L. Liebman is the Robert L. Lieff Professor of Law and director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies at Columbia Law School. He is also the director of the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law. His current research focuses on the use of computational tools to study Chinese court judgments, the roles of artificial intelligence and big data in the Chinese legal system, Chinese tort law, Chinese criminal procedure, and the evolution of China’s courts. His recent publications include “Regulating the Visible Hand: The Institutional Implications of Chinese State Capitalism,” (with Curtis J. Milhaupt), Oxford University Press, 2015, and “Leniency in Chinese Criminal Law: Everyday Justice in Henan,” Berkeley Journal of International Law, 2015. Prior to joining the Law School’s faculty in 2002, Liebman was an associate in the London and Beijing offices of Sullivan & Cromwell. He also previously served as a law clerk to Justice David Souter and to Judge Sandra Lynch of the First Circuit. He is a graduate of Yale University, the University of Oxford, and Harvard Law School.

Speaker(s) Prof Benjamin L. Liebman
Columbia Law School
Date 13 Nov 2019 (Wednesday)
Time 4:00 - 5:30 pm
Venue Dean’s suite, Room 3360 (Lifts 13-15), Academic Building, HKUST
Remarks The Dean is hosting an informal reception on behalf of Prof. Liebman at 5:30 pm. Please feel free to stop by to meet him even if you are not able to attend his talk (e.g., due to teaching, office hours, etc.).
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
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