BEIJING, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- In China's latest move to control the use of the death penalty, the chief justice urged courts to exercise extreme caution when sentencing people to death, saying that every judgement must stand the test of time.
"In cases where the judge has legal leeway to decide whether to order death, he should always choose not to do so," said Xiao Yang, President of China's Supreme People's Court.
Xiao said a bullet to the back of head should be reserved for only an "extremely small number" of serious offenders.
If a convict surrenders to the police or helps them solve crimes the judge should generally not pass a sentence of death, the chief justice said.
On Thursday, Jiang Xingchang, vice president of the Supreme People's Court, again, stressed that all appeals against death sentences should be processed in open trials and local courts must video-tape the appeals for record keeping.
He also called for increased security during trails that may end with death sentences to ensure the safety of judges, lawyers, and other people involved.
Late last month, China's top legislature passed an amendment to the organic law on courts, stipulating that all death penalties handed out by provincial courts must be reviewed and ratified by the Supreme People's Court (SPC).
The Supreme People's Court has expanded criminal tribunals and a death penalty review team to deal with the change of statutes.
A series of cases involving people wrongly convicted and executed for crimes they did not commit were recently exposed in the media.
"Judges should be very cautious, as if walking on thin ice, when it comes to the death penalty. They should ensure the facts and the evidence are all clear and the verdict is issued in accordance with law," said Xiao.
On Thursday, in the northeastern city of Shenyang, two death sentences were reported. A 56-year-old former manager of an elevator factory was sentenced to death for murdering and dismembering seven women he paid to dance with in nightclubs.
And in a separate case, a 41-year-old was sentenced to death for murder and robbery.
The Intermediate People's Court of Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province, found Zhang Xianguang guilty of robbing 2.2 million yuan (278,481 US dollars) from a currency-carrying van after beating to death the van driver.
It's not know if they will appeal.
In China, the death penalty can be handed with or without a two-year reprieve, according to the law. The sentence of death with reprieve is normally reduced to life in prison after two years.
The chief justice also ruled out the possibility of abolishing the death penalty as a number of legal experts and human rights groups have urged.
"The conditions are not yet ripe for China to ban the death penalty. It is still a necessary means to ensure the safety of the state and protect the people," he said.