HK Firms Vie to Put China Court Rulings Online

HONG KONG (05/03/2000) - Two online publishers this week claimed apparently conflicting rights to what could be a critical service for corporations doing business in China -- official, up-to-date information on China's legal system.

Isinolaw Ltd. yesterday announced at a press conference in Hong Kong that later this month it will launch a site to provide legal judgments, arbitration rulings, and interpretations of law from China's Supreme People's Court online, in English and both traditional and simplified Chinese characters.

The site, at http://www.isinolaw.com, will be geared toward foreign companies investing and operating in China. It could be critical for lawyers and companies that need to know where the courts stand as China enters the World Trade Organization and gradually opens its long-protected markets, company officials said.

"A lot of people are confused about how the mainland legal system works. We provide everyone a portal to the legal process," said Gordon Yuen, a director of the company, in an interview following the press conference.

China's Supreme People's Court gave the company the exclusive right through 2010 to provide official translations of those documents and to publish them in Chinese and English, according to Isinolaw.

However, another company, China Law Corp., yesterday claimed in a press release that it holds the exclusive right to publish those judgments and law interpretations online for the next 15 years. A U.S. financial services group is a strategic investor in the start-up, which will launch a Web site within three months to provide the information online, according to a company statement.

Both companies said they are confident they have the court's official backing.

"I do not know of any other company that has such a right, because I have a long-term relationship with the People's Court," said Priscilla Leung, a director of Isinolaw and the editor-in-chief of the English version of the China Law Reports Series, which she said is recognized by the Supreme People's Court.

Leung said she began translating Chinese court publications in 1992 as part of a project partly sponsored by the City University of Hong Kong, where she is an associate professor.

In fact, she has been given the power to approve any other translator or online publisher of the reports, Leung said.

"From the very beginning, it must be a company that has been assigned by me," Leung said. "I have not assigned any other company except Isinolaw," she added.

A source familiar with China Law Corp. said yesterday that the company was granted the online and English publication rights last month, after the Supreme People's Court on Feb. 18 ended its contract with an earlier licensee. That contract had begun in 1994.

"My understanding is that the Supreme People's Court has given the authority to another party previously and the other party did not fulfill their obligations on the contract," because they did not publish translations regularly and did not publish versions in traditional Chinese characters, said the source, who did not name the earlier contractor.

Insinolaw's Leung said the earlier contract was held by China Law and Culture Publications, with which she was affiliated, and that the only contract revoked in February was for printing information in traditional Chinese characters. The deal was ended at her request, Leung said.

"We didn't find it necessary to have the printed form in both traditional and simplified Chinese characters," Leung said. Traditional Chinese will be provided on the Web by Isinolaw, she said.

The court did not end any other part of the contract, Leung said.

China Law Corp. had no comment on Isinolaw's claim.

"China Law Corp. has great confidence that they have the exclusive rights for what they have named in their release," said Anita Cheung, a public relations consultant for the company.

An authoritative online source for Chinese court decisions would be invaluable, one lawyer specializing in China said in response to an e-mail query, but he is skeptical that such a service could be comprehensive.

"It would be great to have a comprehensive, up-to-date, and reliable database for China law," said Warren Rothman, an attorney in private practice in San Francisco. "This is difficult given the tremendous number of jurisdictions in China that issue rules or regulations, and given the great disparities in China in the technological conditions related to the transmission of information."

Another potential barrier is the reluctance of some jurisdictions to share any information without charging a fee, Rothman said.

The Supreme People's Court meets with provincial courts at least once a year, and selects certain rulings from provincial courts for publication, according to Isinolaw's Leung.

Isinolaw will have a staff of approximately 60 attorneys to translate court documents and hopes to provide government-approved translations of rulings within a week, though the turnaround will vary, Yuen said.

In addition to laws on the books and court and arbitration decisions, Isinolaw will provide updated information on edicts from government agencies, like the rules put out last year and early this year on the use of data security software and on dissemination of state secrets over the Internet, Yuen said.

[See "Beijing Tightens Internet Rules," Jan. 27.] Isinolaw will also arrange arbitration services for foreign companies through the Shenzhen office of the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, and plans to expand those services to other regions of China, Yuen said. Through the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Peking University, Isinolaw also will provide a patent application service.

The company will sell yearly, monthly and pay-per-view subscriptions and also offer a free directory of attorneys, Yuen said.

Basing its site in Hong Kong, Isinolaw will set up mirror sites in the U.S. and Europe, according to the company.

Isinolaw, in Hong Kong, can be reached at +852-2189-7800. China Law Corp., also in Hong Kong, can be reached +852-2864-4827.

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