First Application of Summary Procedure in Trial of Foreign-related Cases
On the morning of 24 September, Haikou Maritime Court applied summary procedure in the public hearing of two cases regarding disputes over insurer’s right of subrogation brought by the plaintiff, Chubb, against the defendants, Cargo Express Shipping Inc., Maersk Line A/S, and Hainan Xinlang Freight Forwarding Co., Ltd. It was the first time that Haikou Maritime Court had applied summary procedure in the trial of foreign-related cases. The litigants had reached settlement agreements in one of the cases, and preliminary settlement plans were drawn up for the other case.
Chubb claimed in both cases that two shipments of frozen tilapia products exported by a food company in Hainan to the United States had been found defrosted and perished at the port of discharge as a result of improper temperature setting of the refrigeration unit, and Chubb as the insurer had paid the insured, the food company in Hainan, a sum of nearly USD 90,000 as compensation for the cargo damage; Hainan Xinlang Freight Forwarding Co., Ltd. was the freight forwarder for the insured, Cargo Express Shipping Inc. was the non-vessel operating common carrier, and Maersk Line A/S was the actual carrier; Chubb thus requested the court to order the three companies to be jointly and severally liable for the compensation for the cargo damage in dispute. The cases were entertained respectively in May and July this year.
The cases involved foreign elements in two ways: first, more than one litigant was foreign parties. Cargo Express Shipping Inc. was registered in California, USA, Maersk Line A/S was registered in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Chubb was invested with foreign funds (it was a wholly-owned company set up by Federal Insurance Company in China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone); second, the subject legal facts took place outside China. The cargo damage in both cases took place in transit by sea from Haikou Port, China to Savannah, Georgia, USA. The damage was found, the assessment was conducted and the claims were made in Georgia, USA. In judicial practices, foreign-related cases like this would usually be tried with regular procedure.
After entertaining the cases, Haikou Maritime Court did some research and held that although the two cases involved foreign elements, they featured plain facts, clear legal relationships, and not large values of subject matter. The court thus decided to apply summary procedure to try the cases. When deciding on the trial teams for the cases, the court specially selected a person with proficient English translation skills as the judges’ assistant and to be in charge of evidence translation and proofreading, as well as to provide interpreting services to facilitate the communication with the foreign parties. To clear obstacles before the hearing, the trial teams communicated with the litigants by email and phone on dozens of occasions about the service of documents, formats of evidence of foreign sources, formalities for authorization by foreign litigants, mediation in the cases, and other issues. The hearing was held on 24 September and merely took 80 minutes.
With the common efforts of the litigants and the trial teams, the litigants had reached settlement agreements on one of the cases; preliminary settlement plans were in place for the other case, and a formal settlement agreement was expected to be signed in recent days. The litigants all highly approved the convenient litigation environment and efficiency of Haikou Maritime Court.
Ever since the CPC Central Committee and the State Council had announced the building of a free trade zone (port) in Hainan, Haikou Maritime Court had been making innovations in its foreign-related trials by promoting the acceptance of identification of and general authorization by foreign litigants, setting up a system to ascertain foreign laws, and using other means. The innovative application of summary procedure in foreign-related cases not only facilitated the litigation proceedings, reduced the litigation costs, and enhanced the trial efficiency, but also contributed to the creation of a law-governing, international and convenient business environment.