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Durham University

Durham Law School

Staff profile

Publication details for Dr Zhiyu Li

Chen, Benjamin Minhao & Li, Zhiyu (2017). The Foundations of Judicial Diffusion in China: Evidence from an Experiment. Review of Law & Economics 14(3): 1-27.

Author(s) from Durham


Chinese judicial opinions were, for a long time, not readily accessible even by the courts. But an emerging norm of judicial transparency, coupled with the technological advances of the last decade, has resulted in the accumulation of vast bodies of cases available for consultation by both the lay and the learned. These recent developments in the Chinese legal landscape allow judges to influence and be influenced by the decisions of judges sitting in other courts. This project is the first to adopt an experimental approach to evaluating the influence of prior judicial decisions on Chinese judges. We find that citation of a case out of a sister court had a substantial and statistically significant effect on judges’ interpretation of a vague, permissive, legal standard. This effect was not, however, accompanied by a reduction in the length of sentences awarded by judges. An additional study suggests that prior judicial decisions have an indistinguishable influence on judges and law students, indicating that role and environment are unlikely to be the explanation for the main result.