Here is a follow up on a story of interest to anyone following the development of class and collective action procedures in developing markets. As reported yesterday by the Winston-Salem Journal a new product liability lawsuit has been filed against 22 dairies in the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing on behalf of alleged victims of baby formula tainted with the toxic chemical melamine. The move follows unsuccessful attempts to pursue collective actions in the lower courts for redress to children who were sickened or killed by the tainted milk (see this November ClassActionBlawg entry). According this Reuters article today by Emma Graham-Harrison,
The highly unusual intervention is within the court’s power, said Xu Zhiyong, one of the lawyers who submitted it, but added that they held little hope of it succeeding.
The Chinese Government’s official web portal describes the powers of the Supreme People’s Court as including:
Conducting trial of the following cases: first-hearing cases placed with the SPC by laws and regulations and those the SPC deems within its jurisdiction.
Source: Gov.cn (emphasis added). (I’m by no means a Chinese law expert, but to my untrained eye this appears to say that the court can take any case if it feels like it.)
Efforts to seek collective relief in the Chinese courts reportedly have met repeated resistance from the government. Immediately after the incident, officials tried to discourage resort to the Courts with the promise of government assistance. (See this October 1, 2008 ClassActionBlawg entry). According to Graham-Harrison’s article, parents of children allegedly poisoned were detained when they tried to attend the trial of executives of one of the companies accused of selling the tainted milk. Graham-Harrison echoes the observations of previous commentators that the ruling Communist party’s influence over the courts has frustrated attempts to use the courts as a means of pursuing collective redress.