People can solve online shopping disputes within half an hour, thanks to "online courtrooms" established in four courts in East China's Zhejiang province.
Customers who unknowingly purchase fake or low-quality goods online can sue, and then participate in court hearings from their homes, instead of going to court. The approach is "a new appealing style that saves litigants' time and reduces the burden on the legal system", said Li Yi, a judge specializing in intellectual property cases at Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court.
The online case hearings are part of a pilot program run by the court, and includes three grassroots courts in the province's Yuhang, Xihu and Binjiang districts. It started last year.
So far, the online courtrooms have received 8,165 lawsuit applications. In addition to settling online disputes about goods, the courts alsodeal with complaints about online payments and copyrights.
"What we want is to provide convenience for litigants, making lawsuits as easy as shopping online," Li said, adding that fighting online counterfeits through the courts helps protect intellectual property.
Litigants can register an account on one of the four courts' websites using a mobile phone number, and then provide evidence for the case. They pay court fees via online banks or Alipay, a payment channel of Alibaba Group.
"Information about the lawsuit, such as when the case will be heard, will be conveyed to litigants via the mobile network," Li said. The judge, plaintiff, defendant and representatives of the e-commerce platform, such as Taobao, participate in an online chat room, providing testimony and evidence.
"Most online litigations can be ended within 30 minutes," she said.
The online courts can also handle complaints from customers overseas. But hearings are conducted in the Chinese language and rely on the country's laws, so hiring a Chinese lawyer to participate in the hearings may be a good idea.
According to Cheng Wenjuan, a judge responsible for the online courtroom at Yuhang court: "Enterprises providing online shopping, such as Alibaba, have fueled a boom in online disputes, which is the major reason that we hear such litigations in this way."
As of April 19, the Yuhang court had received 5,451 lawsuit applications. After review, 600 were filed.
"Some disputes, in fact, can be mediated or cannot be accepted under the law, so more than 1,800 complaints were withdrawn," she said.