PRC mulls death penalty reforms


Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 4

China's high courts yesterday began reopening hearings for death penalty cases in a long-awaited move aimed at raising the quality of justice in capital punishment cases.

"With the ultimate power to assess cases involving capital punishment now given to the high courts, our nation's judicial system is faced with new and higher requirements in its deliberation work," China's top judge Xiao Yang (肖揚) said in a statement on Friday.

The new procedures were a result of the "nature of domestic and foreign politics," Xiao said, acknowledging international concern over the number of people executed in China.

China executes more people a year than the rest of the world combined, according to rights group Amnesty International.

Although the exact number is a state secret, Chinese academics have publicly estimated that the state puts up to 10,000 people to death every year.

The move is also designed to reduce the use of torture to extract confessions. China's Supreme People's Court acknowledged last week that forced confessions had led to miscarriages of justice and misuse of the death penalty.

"In a summary by the Supreme Court of unjust and problematic cases involving mistaken executions ... it was discovered that most cases had problems relating to using torture to extract confessions," vice Supreme Court justice Zhang Jun (張軍) said on Friday.

Provincial high courts must now open hearings for defendants who face the death sentence and allow defense attorneys to present testimony and review evidence, Xiao said.

Previously, these courts had only approved death sentences from case documents and did not hear defense arguments or testimony from defendants.

The new hearings must also be videotaped. Xiao said the new procedures would improve judicial decisions,prosecution, defense and investigation.