China's top court issued instructions on Wednesday for all courts to publicly disclose the progress of trials, judgments and whether sentences have been enforced, to improve judicial transparency.
Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People's Court, said transparency is key to providing independent verdicts and boosting trust in the legal system, and is essential to furthering judicial reform.
Normally, most courts only publish information on their own websites, and that information is limited to verdicts. This system is not convenient for people who want to find information on the progress of trials, the top court said.
Zhou required that the courts expand their use of technology to better communicate with the public.
From Wednesday, more than 3,000 courts across the country have been ordered to share verdicts on the Judicial Opinion of China website, which the top court established on July 1.
Zhou said that the most important factor is to make trial procedures clear using technical means.
"I'm glad to see positive feedback after some controversial cases, but I also find that some people complain or question our judicial work because we cannot disclose information on trials.
"Putting every judicial process under the spotlight will test judges and help them improve the quality of their rulings. It could also prevent abuse of the right to sue and of legal resources," he said.
This requires platforms that can provide judicial services and information, Zhou said, such as whether a case has been opened in response to a complaint, and if and why a trial has been delayed. This information can be communicated via text messages, micro blogs or WeChat, he said.
"Technology, I believe, will perform the greatest service for judicial transparency," he said, asking every court to install recording equipment to allow such information to be gathered.
Some cities have already held pilot programs publicizing the progress of trials.
In Shanghai, almost 4,500 lawsuits have been filed online since 2008, and residents can also follow their cases on a 24-hour online platform.
"With a password, people involved in disputes in the city can know what stage their case is at and supervise the judges' work," Zhou said.
Residents of Wuhan, Hubei province, can track their cases by scanning an individual quick-response code that links to a website.
"Residents' private information on disclosed documents, including identity card numbers and home addresses, will be protected," Zhou said.
In addition, each court is asked to inform residents, either online or by text message, whether sentences have been enforced.
However, some courts in central and western parts of China still have difficulty in establishing online platforms, said Lyu Yao, vice-president of Sichuan High People's Court.
"Courtrooms equipped with advanced technology are rare in Sichuan, especially in the Aba Tibetan autonomous prefecture, where judicial resources are scarce," she said. "The fact is, every county-level court in our province has only one room with video recorders."
Some judges in undeveloped areas are also worried that their judgments or trial quality will be challenged online, "so it's harder to push forward judicial transparency there", she added.
Wang Xixin, a Peking University law professor, said it is common to receive different responses on the Internet, and suggested judges prepare mentally for that when they put trial information online.