Dedicated court better protects rights for different parties in family affair cases
Overseas residents engaged in family disputes have enjoyed easier access to legal services thanks to a trial center in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area to promote its integrated development of the rule of law.
Just a 14-minute high-speed train ride from Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, the center is located in an office building next to the Shenzhen North Railway Station in Guangdong province. Litigants from Hong Kong, a major source of domestic cases in the area, travel there to solve domestic problems more conveniently.
As a division of the Longhua District People's Court, the Shenzhen Family Trial Center Involving Hong Kong-Macao-Taiwan and Foreign Factors was established on July 6 last year. It handles first-instance cross-border family disputes, including those related to divorce, child custody, inheritance and property allocation.
By the end of March, the center had filed 445 cases, of which 72.8 percent involved Hong Kong litigants, according to court data.
"The center has played a big role in strongly protecting the rights of women and children in cross-border case handling, and also in providing efficient legal services for those from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and foreign countries," Shi Wei, president of the court, told China Daily in an exclusive interview last month.
"We have not only helped solve litigants' domestic problems, but we've also eased their concerns about studies, work, daily life and also starting businesses or investing in Shenzhen," he said.
Family disputes are generally more complicated, "as many domestic conflicts are about people's personal rights that are more difficult to be quantified compared with property allocation in commercial cases," Shi explained.
"Therefore, we have to care more about litigants to prevent those who are emotional from harming their family members or even disturbing public order while handling their disputes in a fair and efficient manner," he added.
For those who can't make the trip, litigants from home and abroad can go online to access legal services such as case filing, evidence exchange, trial and mediation and to facilitate the delivery of documents.
At the center, visitors can visit a rest area, where they can relax in a musical massage chair or release pent-up aggression on a punching bag. There is also a nursery to help care for infants, and children can play with toys and read books while accompanied by family members in a children's waiting room.
In addition, the center has a psychological assessment room and an observation room, where judges can observe parents playing games with their children and assess their relationships and mental states in a bid to figure out the best way to solve their domestic disputes.
There is also a room run by the local women's federation to mediate divorces, a counseling room for legal advice and a room judges use specifically to settle disputes online.
A property dispute between a Shenzhen woman and a Hong Kong man who were living together was heard recently at a courtroom.
Though the case was not solved that day, the Hong Kong litigant said that the center left him with a good impression.
"Its environment is comfortable. I felt less stressed, and it was easy to communicate with the judge," he added.
Mao Zhaozhi, the Shenzhen woman's attorney, also approved of the center. The courtroom they were in had a round table at the center.
"'Round' in Chinese signifies harmony, so the design shows the humanity in domestic case handling," he said, adding that it was his first sitting at such a table during a trial hearing.
Mao also lauded the technologyfriendly facilities and the judges' clear explanation of the laws.
In another case in the center that day, a man working in Shenzhen won custody of his child from a Thai woman. After the trial, He Pengchao, the man's lawyer, said that he filed the case online, and the foreign defendant and her attorney participated in the trial via video link.
"All the legal procedures were efficient, which made me willing to represent more cross-border family cases in the future," he added.
Shi, the court's president, noted that the center has played a big role in serving litigants from the Bay Area and abroad during the epidemic period.
"Domestic and overseas exchanges have gradually resumed since the beginning of this year, so more family cases will come to us," he said.
"How to better protect children's rights and interests in cross-border marriages, and how to further improve the system for cross-border trials to promote the integrated development of the rule of law in the Bay Area in case handling will be our next priorities," he added.
Shi revealed that an online platform for learning about extraterritorial laws regarding family affairs is being set up by the center, aiming to provide legal guidance and references for judges and litigants.
Meanwhile, the center is also selecting mediators from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and foreign countries to jointly explore better ways to resolve family disputes, he said.
"In addition, the center will continue working with the local women's federation, labor unions and children's aid institutes to integrate traditional Chinese family culture and the socialist concept of law with the development in the Bay Area, to enhance people's sense of identity and their cohesion with a Chinesestyle socialist legal system," he added.