BEIJING, July 23 -- Courts at all levels have
been ordered to set tougher procedural standards for trials involving the death
penalty - a step legal experts have hailed as a sign that China will reduce its
use of capital punishment.
"Every procedure of the first trial, second trial and retrial, as well as the reviewing of the
death penalty, must be rigidly executed," Cao Jianming, vice-president of the
Supreme People's Court (SPC), said at a recent seminar for senior justice
officials in Dalian in Northeast China's Liaoning Province.
Courts are now also being urged to examine evidence
more carefully to avoid incorrect death sentences, he said.
"Lessons should be learnt from trials to perfect the
system in the area of capital punishment," the vice-president said.
"Cao's speech indicates that the nation plans to
decrease the number of capital punishment sentences in order to follow the
policy to 'kill fewer, kill carefully'," Chen Xingliang, a law professor at
Peking University, said.
Recent examples such as the case of She Xianglin, who
was wrongly convicted and served 11 years in prison for murder, and the unjust
murder case of Nie Shubin have widened debate over the possibility of abolishing
the death penalty in China.
But there also exist some vague articles in China's
Criminal Code that have led to chaotic standards among the lower courts in
doling out the death penalty, Chen said.
For example, the code stipulates that the death
penalty is to be imposed for the most serious crimes, "but there is no detailed
regulation on how serious 'the most serious' has to be," he said.
China's current laws dictate that all death penalty
rulings given by local intermediate people's courts or above should be submitted
to the SPC for approval, but in cases involving violent crimes such as murder,
rape and robbery, provincial higher courts are empowered to approve executions.
China uses the death penalty for a wide range of
crimes, from murder to economic crimes such as corruption. Criminals who are not
required by law to be executed immediately would receive a two-year probation
before execution is carried out.
Believing the death penalty should be abolished in
the long run, Chen suggested that the court increase long-term sentences instead
of using the death penalty.
"When the long-term imprisonment system is set up,
judges will be less likely to resort to capital punishment," Vice-Minister of
Justice Zhang Jun said at another seminar earlier this year.
A survey by the ministry last year found that most
serious criminals who were sentenced to life imprisonment actually stayed in
prison only for 15 years or so before being released.
"The focus of reforming the punishment system is not
to abolish the death penalty," he said, "but to set up more long-term prison
sentences - for example, 20- or 30-year sentences - to reduce the use of the
death penalty." Enditem
(Source: China Daily)