The State Constitution of 1982 and the Organic Law of the People's Courts that went into effect on January 1, 1980, provide for a four-level court system. At the highest level is the Supreme People's Court, the premier appellate forum of the land, which supervises the administration of justice by all subordinate "local" and "special" people's courts. Local people's courts--the courts of the first instance--handle criminal and civil cases. These people's courts make up the remaining three levels of the court system and consist of "higher people's courts" at the level of the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities; "intermediate people's courts" at the level of prefectures, autonomous prefectures, and municipalities; and "basic people's courts" at the level of autonomous counties, towns, and municipal districts.
In April 1986, at the Fourth Session of the Sixth National People's Congress, the General Principles of the Civil Code was approved as "one of China's basic laws." Consisting of more than 150 articles, the code is intended to regulate China's internal and external economic relations to establish a stable base conducive to trade and attractive to foreign investors. Many of its provisions define the legal status of economic entities and the property rights they exercise. The code clearly stipulates that private ownership of the means of production is protected by law and may not be seized or interfered with by any person or organization. It also recognizes partnerships and wholly foreign-owned or joint-venture enterprises.
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