Saturday, March 28, 2020

Shasha Li: Commentary on "Binwen Xing (Jilin University School of Law): 'Can meeting of People’s Congress be held in the form of online video?'" 邢斌文:人大会议能否以网络视频的形式召开?

Over the course of the last several years, Chinese scholars have been engaging in a very interesting discussion about the way that constitutional sensitivities to human rights affects Chinese law and practice in a number f areas. The conversation intensified after 2004 when the State Constitution was amended to include a third paragraph in its Article 33 that provides: "The State respects and preserves human rights."

This year I have the great privilege of hosting a marvelous visiting scholar from China, Shasha Li. Professor Li is an Associate Professor of Law School of Dongbei University of Finance and Economics. She obtained her Bachelor of Law from Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, her Master of Law at Nankai University; ad her Doctor of Law at Jilin University. Professor Li may be contacted at fishsuncat [AT]

I have prevailed on Professor Li to offer readers in English a glimpse at some of the rich discussion among academics who are considering the application of principles of human rights with Chinese characteristics and compatible with the Chinese political and normative system. Earlier Commentary may be accessed HERE, and HERE.

For her next  commentary, Professor Li has chosen the essay, "Binwen Xing (Jilin University School of Law): 'Can meeting of People’s Congress be held in the form of online video?'" The essay suggests the Chinese context of a global challenge.  That challenge touches on the default rules for determining the way in which we as a society can act collectively in ways that are authoritative. This becomes a significant issue where the core premise of collective action is based on the ideal of physicality, that is of the physical presence of representatives or other governance power wielding individuals at a place designated in accordance with rules whose collective actions thereby acquire a binding character by operation of law.  That, in essence is the old old definition of congress, and of the way in which public and private power have been manifested in economic, political, societal, and religious communities.
The Commentary, as well as the underlying article, make for interesting reading. The article considers within the broad parameters of the fundamental challenge outlined above, the legality of necessary changes to the way that the National People's Congress meets.  These changes, requiring much more remote participation was made necessary by the government's own restrictions on meetings imposed to meet the challenge of COVID-19 in China.

There is a substantial relevance to issue that are arising now in the U.S. Both Congress and business corporations are currently facing similar issues.  In that context, the legality of online or remote participation meetings becomes much more relevant. With respect to the meetings of Congress, passage of the CARE Act, meant to pump several billion dollars into the economy and support COVID-19 programs, was potentially jeopardized when a member of the House of Representatives challenged the legality of voting for the measure where a quorum of Representatives were not present in the Chamber of the House. 
Friday began on a note of chaotic uncertainty in the House, where the threat of a procedural objection from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) had forced more than 200 lawmakers to return to Washington. These lawmakers traveled by plane and car, some coming from places like New York where people are supposed to quarantine after leaving. Leaders had hoped to pass the massive legislation by “unanimous consent” or by “voice vote” with just a few members present, so that lawmakers scattered to their states wouldn’t have to return to the tight quarters of the Capitol in the midst of a pandemic. But Massie, who opposes the legislation because it adds to the deficit, was prepared to insist on a quorum — or majority of the House — which is specified in the Constitution but rarely enforced. Massie’s move drew bitter complaints from lawmakers of both parties and from Trump, who derided him over Twitter as a “grandstander” who should be tossed out of the Republican Party. (Trump signs $2 trillion coronavirus bill into law as companies and households brace for more economic pain)
With respect to corporate law, several states have had to change the law respecting shareholder annual meetings, either by executive order pursuant to a statutory grant of authority (Executive Order No. 202.8, available here), or by legislation (New Jersey, available here) to permit (but not mandate) virtual only shareholder meetings.  Expect much more in this respect n both the U.S. and China in the coming months. "California permits virtual meetings provided that prior consent from shareholders is obtained.  Still other states, such as Georgia, do not currently permit meetings to be held virtually, with or without an in-person meeting" (here).  See also the SEC Coronavirus Guidance.

Professor Li's English language Commentary follows below along with the original article (Chinese language only; English language Abstract).

Commentary on "Binwen Xing, Jilin University School of Law: 'Can meeting of Peoples Congress be held in the form of online video?'"
Shasha Li

In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, China has adopted severe restrictions to control the spread of the epidemic in the shortest possible time. The main measure that China adopted is travel restriction, which require people to be isolated at home, and reduce infection. Working from home, attending classes at home, and meeting at home have become the choices of many departments and companies. A new form of People's Congress meeting has emerged according to the situation, and "holding a meeting of the People's Congress in the form of a network video conference" has become a reality. The author has done much research on Chinese People's Congress system, so he noticed this phenomenon during this pandemic, and made a short and interesting combing and comment. The author is a teacher of Jilin University Law School and a postdoctoral researcher of the School of Administration. This article has been published on several Wechat public accounts and has become a hot topic in the short term.

The author searched recent news and found that at least two provincial people's congress standing committee meetings were held "in the form of online video conferences." One is the sixteenth meeting of the Standing Committee of the Thirteenth People's Congress of Henan Province, and there is only one topic of the meeting: the "Decision of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Henan Province on Doing a Good Job in the Prevention and Control of Pandemic Situation of Covid-19" which was voted and passed. According to the live photos attached to the news report, there are only a dozen participants and staff at the venue, and other members of the Standing Committee are connected by video. The other is the fourteenth meeting of the Standing Committee of the thirteenth People’s Congress of Hubei Province, which considered and passed the “Decision of the Standing Committee of Hubei Provincial People’s Congress on Providing Powerful Rule of Law for Winning the Fight Against New Coronavirus Pandemic”.

It is not new in China for the party and government organizing video conferences or teleconferences via online video. Prior to this, some work meetings and lectures of the people's congress had already been in video form. However, the Standing Committee meeting of People’s Congress was first held in the form of an online video to review and pass relevant decisions. There seems to be no precedent before this. 

Can the People's Congress be held in the form of online video according to relevant Chinese laws? The author checked China's Constitution, the Organic Law of the National People's Congress, the Organic Law of Local People's Congresses and Local People's Governments at all levels, and the Rules of Procedure of the National People's Congress, and the Rules of Procedure of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and found that they did not specifically regulate the form and status and place of meetings. Therefore, from a legal point of view, there is no legal obstacle to holding a meeting of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress in the form of online video at a specific time and for a specific reason. As long as the organizations prepare well before the meeting, the meeting agenda is properly arranged, and the technical support is secure, it is enough to ensure the smooth progress of the online meeting. Various types of meetings of the People's Congress through online video in specific situations helps to play the important functions of the People's Congress in responding to wars, disasters, and other emergencies, reducing conference organization costs, achieving efficient authorization and appointment of personnel, and maintaining the authority of the Constitution. 

In another article, the author combed the development of video conferences in parliaments of other countries in the world and found that the topic of video technology in parliamentary conferences was particularly discussed during the 2000-2010 decade. Many of them are substantive discussions, such as exploring how to modify the rules of procedure and technical implementation paths. These discussions basically disappeared until 2010 and even after 2005. The author believes that this is because the period of 2000-2005 happened to be the stage of the big explosion of Internet ICT. Network technology seems to offer possibilities. Parliaments of various countries have also followed the situation and carried out demonstrations through organizing committees and other forms. After 2010, the situation changed significantly, and few people tried to discuss the introduction of video conferencing in the plenary. Video conferencing technology is indeed increasingly used in parliaments, but the goal has changed from facilitating parliamentary participation in legislative procedures such as legislation to facilitating parliamentary and parliamentarians to contact the public.  

One reason may be that members of parliament in Western countries are mainly full-time, and they are basically gathered in the legislature on weekdays, while representatives of the people's congresses in China are mainly part-time and do not reside in the legislature for most time. Judging from the restriction measures of Covid-19 this year, China is also more likely to adopt stricter travel restriction measures than other countries to reduce clusters in public. However, at this time, it is even more important for authorities to make important decisions to respond to emergencies. So online video conference need is even more evident in China. At present, there is no specific provision in the law for the People’s Congress and its Standing Committee to adopt online video conferences to pass decisions. This is a legal gap that should be made up. 

In the future, when formulating or supplementing relevant regulations of online video meeting of People’s Congress, in addition to considering technical conditions, conditions on the start of this type of meeting should also be considered. That means online video people's congresses and their standing committee meetings should be exceptional and abnormal. The scope of application of this form should not be expanded, nor should complex tasks be completed in the form of network video conferencing. Additionally, the number of attendees, discussion procedures, decision- making procedures, voting methods and other aspects of online video people's congresses need more discussion. 


中国法律评论2 12 日 以下文章来源于清湖宪法研习社 ,作者邢斌文
吉林大学法学院讲师,法学博士 吉林大学行政学院政治学博士后流动站研究人员
目前正处于“新冠肺炎”疫情防控的关键时期,全国各地都采取了相 应措施,减少人群聚集活动,降低疫情传播风险,在家办公、在家 上课、在家开会成为了许多部门和单位的权宜之选。
根据笔者的检索,近期至少有两个省级人大常委会会议“以网络视频 会议形式”召开。
根据“河南人大网”报道,2 10 日,河南省十三届人大常委会第十 六次会议在郑州召开,会议以视频会议的方式召开,议题只有一个: 审议并表决通过《河南省人民代表大会常务委员会关于依法全力做 好新型冠状病毒肺炎疫情防控工作的决定》。
从新闻报道所附的现场照片来看,主会场是在河南“智慧人大”融媒 体中心,通过视频方式连线其他常委会委员,而现场出席的参会人 员和会场工作人员只有十几位。
根据 2018 11 13 日《河南日报(农村版)》刊载的《省人大 与河南日报报业集团深化合作共建“智慧人大”暨融媒体中心》一文 披露,“智慧人大”暨融媒体中心由河南省人大与河南日报报业集团 签约合作共建,河南省人大计划用三年时间逐步分项完成“智慧人大” 一体化综合技术平台,推进人大传统新闻宣传和人大网站、两微等 新媒体的深度融合。
根据“湖北人大网”报道,2 11 日下午,省十三届人大常委会第十 四次会议以网络视频会议形式召开。会议审议并表决通过《省人大 常委会关于为打赢新型冠状病毒肺炎疫情防控阻击战提供有力法治
保障的决定》,决定任命王贺胜为省卫生健康委员会主任,决定免 去刘英姿的省卫生健康委员会主任职务。
新闻稿虽然没有附会议现场照片,但特别说明:省人大常委会组成 人员应到 61 人,实到 54 人,出席人数符合法定人数。
根据笔者的检索,多个省级地方人大常委会近日来也召开会议,通 过了相关疫情防控决定,根据新闻报道,除河南和湖北外,其他省 级人大常委会并未采取网络视频会议形式召开会议,或者并未明确 说明。
党政机关召开电视电话会议,或者通过网络视频召开会议,在我国 并不是新鲜事儿,相关的新闻报道很容易便可以检索到。
譬如:中国人大网 2006 4 29 日刊载的文章《信息技术正在人 大的各项工作中发挥越来越重要的作用》披露,各省自治区直辖市 人大常委会已经可以利用新开通的全国人大视频系统收看全国人大 常委会会议的闭幕式和会后的讲座,实现会议在线直播;2018 6
月,杭州市人大常委会首次采用视频会议形式举行专题辅导讲座(据 杭州人大网)。
在本次疫情防控期间,其他地方人大机关也有采取视频形式开会的 例子,比如:2020 2 2 日,南京市雨花台区人大机关召开送 岗视频会议(据南京市雨花台区人大常委会网站);2 10 日上午,
四川德阳市人大常委会在疫情期间首次以视频会议形式召开党组 (扩大)会议(据德阳人大网站)。但是,据笔者检索,人大常委 会会议以网络视频的形式召开,审议并通过相关决定,在此之前似 乎没有先例。
我国《宪法》《全国人大组织法》《地方地方各级人民代表大会和 地方各级人民政府组织法》以及《全国人大议事规则》《全国人大 常委会议事规则》并未对召开会议的形式和地点进行具体规定。
因此,从法律上来看,在特定时间、基于特定理由,以网络视频的 形式召开人大常委会会议并没有法律上的障碍。
一方面,现代网络平台和传媒技术已经能够实现多人在线即时交流, 实现会议同步直播录像、文字转录和直播,在某种程度上能够确保
参会人员意愿的真实、即时表达,参会人员的发言、投票和文件提 交行为均可以在线即时完成。只要会前准备充分,会议议程安排合 理,技术支持稳妥,就足以确保在线会议的顺利进行。
另一方面,利用新技术充分保障国家权力机关的有效运行,保障各 级人大代表以法履职,也是现代社会进步和科技发展的应有之义。
在特定情形下通过网络视频方式召开人大各类会议,有助于充分发 挥人大应对战争、灾害和其他突发事件的功能,降低会议组织成本, 实现高效率的授权和人事任免,维护宪法的权威和形式法治的底线。
需要明确的是,利用网络视频召开人大及其常委会会议应当是例外 而非常态。
虽然利用网络视频开会有助于降低会议成本,提高会议召集效率, 但是基于人大会议的严肃性和会议交流的有效性考虑,这种形式的 适用范围不宜扩大。
首先,适用的时机特定。只有发生重大、紧急的事件,与会人员无 法或者不宜现场参会,才能够以网络视频的方式进行,例如发生战 争、重大自然灾害、重大社会突发事件,需要人大迅速履行宪法和 法律赋予的职责进行应对,基于效率和安全才能采取权益变通手段。
如果有其他法定的应急手段或者可以采取改变会期的方式解决的, 则不宜采取网络开会的形式。
其次,适用的任务特定。利用网络视频召开人大会议是为了处理重 大紧急的任务,所以会议议程一定是相对简单,容易达成共识,能 够在短时间内完成。不宜通过网络视频会议的形式完成复杂的任务,
例如高强度的立法审议、进行尚存重大争议事项的表决等。可以看 到,上述河南省人大常委会和湖北省人大常委会的会议议程安排简 单明了。
再次,人大召开网络会议时,参会人员不宜过多。采用网络视频形 式召开人大及其常委会会议,同样要满足召开会议的基本条件,即 出席人数达到法定要求。利用新媒体召开会议对硬件设备的要求比 较高,除了组织会议的主体设备外,还要求每位参会人员也能够拥 有和熟练操作相关设备,才能满足会议召开的法定条件。
说只有人大常委会才能以视频的方式开会,人数较少的基层人大同 样也可以采用这种形式。
当然,这里的“多少”是基于特定时期的技术水平,随着技术条件的 完善,数量上的标准是可以变动的。
利用网络视频召开人大会议的实践发生后,一些新的问题还需要进 一步深入研究。
人大及其常委会会议与其他工作会议、讲座、研讨会不同,涉及公 权力的行使,参会的人大代表需要进行有效的审议、表决,甚至也
包括联名提出议案。现有的技术手段能否确保相关会议的真实性、 有效性,就需要从公法角度进一步思考。
第一,视频会议上表决方式的选择。如果采取网络视频会议的形式, 是否会对表决方式产生影响?公开的新闻并未披露河南与湖北两省 人大常委会视频会议采用的表决方式。从效率上看,采用举手表决 方式最为合适,但特定的会议形式如果无法采用无记名投票方式是 否会影响参会人员的真实意愿?现有技术能否实现无记名远程在线 投票?
第二,在日常情形下,能否允许个别应出席人员利用网络参会?比 如,个别代表因病或因事等正当理由无法到场参会,但个人愿意且 技术条件允许通过网络视频或者其他技术手段参会。这种履职方式 是否被允许?
第三,新的会议形式是否会导致新的公平问题?由于新的会议形式 对设备硬件依赖非常高,需要前期的物质投入,如何实现投入在区 域和层级上的公平性,可能也是一个值得注意的问题。
保代表签到、意见收集、表决统计乃至文件提交的及时性和准确性, 也涉及国家秘密、人大代表个人隐私的保护和会议公开程度提高等 问题,这对于技术的稳妥性也有了更高的要求。
谈到这里,自然涉及到一个相关的问题:原定于今年 3 月初召开的 全国“两会”,能否通过视频会议的形式召开?
笔者的意见倾向于否定。基于疫情防控的需要,今年的全国“两会” 应当延期,个别地方人大常委会在年初已经作出了同级人大会议延 期召开的决定,调整了会期。
以全国人大为例,将近 3000 人的规模,而且还需要对重要立法草 案进行审议,对国家预算和预算执行情况进行审查,即便预备会议、 主席团会议和代表团会议乃至分组审议都可以采用视频会议形式, 在线收集意见、在线表决和邮寄提交议案等在技术上也可行,但基
于全国人大会议的严肃性和重要性,还是不宜通过视频会议的形式 进行。
历史上全国人大曾有在夏天甚至是冬天开会的先例,如能延期,最 为妥当。
在当下的特殊时期,河南省人大常委会和湖北省人大常委会的新尝 试为我国人大制度的实践积累了新的经验,各地人大常委会为疫情 防控而采取的措施也彰显了权力机关的功能,值得学术界认真对待。
而现代技术对民主的影响,还远未结束。可能在未来的某一天,人 大会议可以借助技术而无比便捷,正如刘慈欣在科幻小说《中国 2185》中描绘的那样,数以亿计的公民可以同时在线开会。

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