International Conference on Systems of Judicial Precedents

Judicial precedent plays an important role in countries whose legal system follows the common law tradition. The UK and the US are key examples of such common law countries, but they are not the only places which operate systems of judicial precedent. In recent years China has also begun to implement a “case-guiding” system (though it should be noted that judicial precedent is not the same as case law).


The differences and similarities between various national systems of judicial precedent were examined at an international conference on December 17th 2014, hosted at Renmin University’s Centre for Common Law in cooperation with the Great Britain-China Centre and the China Behaviour Law Association.

More than 100 experts from China and the UK, including legal scholars, practitioners and law students attended the event. The UK delegation was led by Lord Justice Toulson of the UK Supreme Court, who was joined by Professor Jeremy Cooper, Director of Training for Tribunals in the Judicial College, District Judge David Robinson of the UK Magistrates' Court, and Martin Edmunds QC, Tutor Judge for the Judicial College. Lord Toulson’s delegation was visiting Beijing to attend GBCC’s 1st UK-China Judicial Roundtable with the Supreme People’s Court.

The conference was comprised of two seminars:

  • Seminar one - “Defining and comparing judicial precedent systems”;
  • Seminar two - “Examining and perfecting China’s current judicial precedent system

The first seminar was chaired by Professor He Jiahong, Director of the Centre for Common Law, with opening remarks from Professor Zhang Zhiming, Professor at Renmin Law School, who described the legal basis on which China’s system of judicial precedent was built, and the problems that contemporary China faces in considering such systems.

Professor Feng Jun described the German system of judicial precedent as simply a precedent under the law, not legally binding, but often complied with in practice. Professor Zhu Jingwen in turn compared the Chinese and UK systems of judicial precedent, whilst Professor Zhang Weiping of Tsinghua University Law School introduced the basic features of Japan’s system, which he described as the best reference from which to develop China’s own system of judicial precedent. Other European systems were also introduced and examined by the panellists as further examples of the variations in judicial precedent across different legal systems.

In the second seminar, chaired by Professor Shi Yan’an of the Centre for Common Law, Professor Zhao Xiaogeng went into detail on the historical basis for traditional Chinese law, and described how there is no example in ancient Chinese law which accounts for the differences between “precedent” and “case”. Additional panellists from Peking University Law School, DeHeng Law Firm, and Beijing Institute of Technology Law School drew on this historical perspective, as well as the examples of Germany, the UK, and other countries, to explore possible methodologies for a system of judicial precedent in China. This was supported with contributions from the UK delegates, each of whom drew on their own experience with practical examples from the UK.

Professor Han Dayuan, Dean of Renmin Law School, summarised the discussions of the conference and described the importance for China of conducting comparative studies in judicial precedent. Professor Han expressed the hope that both China and the UK would continue to work together to promote such exchanges, and thanked the Centre for Common Law, the Great Britain-China Centre, and the China Behaviour Law Association for organising the event.

Date posted: 14 January 2015

Categories: Judicial Dialogues, Rule of Law and Business Environment, Centre for Common Law

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