As a hearing on a securities fraud case was about to open in the intermediate people's court of Guangzhou in south China, the plaintiff's attorney, Ye Fapan, was accompanying his pregnant wife in their hometown in Anhui Province, over 1,000 km away.
However, the lawyer did not miss the hearing. He opened a mini-program embedded in messaging app WeChat, named "Guangzhou Micro Court," on his mobile phone and completed an identification process. Seconds later, his face appeared on the LED screen in the courtroom.
This was the first time the court allowed an attorney to join a proceeding via mobile internet.
Some 753 million Chinese have access to mobile internet services, which transform their lives in almost every aspect, including public services and legal practices.
The court is working to make its services smarter, aimed at enhancing transparency, fairness, and efficiency, according to Zhang Chunhe, vice president of the court.
"China will speed up the construction of smart courts," Chief Justice Zhou Qiang said while delivering a work report of the Supreme People's Court at the first session of the 13th National People's Congress on Friday.
Courts will better use artificial intelligence, voice recognition, big data, and other digital technology to improve trials and social governance, Zhou said.
The "Guangzhou Micro Court" mini-program, which was launched in November, integrates the functions of apps rolled out in 2016 for lawyers, the public, and law enforcers. The mini-program has logged more than 300,000 clicks.
Lawyer Li Ping said the mini-program supports case filing, record reading, and payment. She has used it for more than a month.
"I previously used a trolley to carry all the documents to the court for case filing. But now, I can use my mobile phone to scan and upload the documentary evidence, and file cases easily with a click," Li said.
"Also, I don't need to make appointments to read records or queue to make payments at the bank anymore. All this can be done on my phone."
The mini-program helps not only lawyers, but also the public.
Chen Ruibiao, a Guangzhou resident, was involved in a complicated property dispute. He followed his case on the mini-program.
"I made many calls to ask about the progress of my case. I understand that the judges are too busy to answer my questions in detail every time," Chen said. "So it's a huge relief that I can now follow the case myself."
According to the Guangzhou court, 80 percent of the inquiries it receives concern case progress. Now, over 1,500 such inquiries are made daily through the mini-program.
Judges at the court perform collegiate bench discussions, judgement writing, and evidence collection on an app, which has a multiparty video call system and is supported by voice recognition and artificial intelligence technology.
Last year, the court accepted more than 50,000 cases, up over 11 percent, and each judge settled 233 cases on average, up 50 percent. The growth partly resulted from the help of mobile technology.
Similar practices have also been adopted in courts in cities such as Beijing and Hangzhou.
In August, China's first court specializing in internet-related cases opened in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, with the cases tried online. By registering on court's website, plaintiffs can file lawsuits and pay legal costs. They and defendants can have their disputes handled without being present at court and at a much lower cost.