BEIJING, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Legislation will be improved to control the number of death sentences and the Supreme People's Court (SPC) will tighten restrictions on the use of capital punishment, SPC Vice President Zhang Jun, was quoted by Wednesdayí»s China Daily as saying.
The number of criminal executions will be reduced in China, and courts will more often hand out the sentence of death penalty with reprieve, which can be commuted to life in prison and later reduced to 20 years and even lessened further for good behavior, according to Zhang.
The country will retain death sentence, but it should be applied only to "an extremely small number" of offenders who have committed extremely serious or heinous crimes that lead to grave social consequences, he said.
Zhang said the highest court exercises extreme caution in handing down the death sentence to those guilty of killing family members or neighbors over disputes.
"Judicial departments should use the least number of death sentences as possible, and death penalties should not be given to those having a reason for not being executed," Zhang said.
People who plead guilty, compensate family members of the victims, or are pardoned by the latter are generally given more lenient punishments.
In January 2007, the SPC reserved the right to review all death penalty decisions made by lower courts after provincial high courts drew fire amid reports of miscarriage of justice.
With the SPC given the sole power to review and ratify all death sentences, the country is applying fewer death sentences. An average of 15 percent of sentences were overturned in 2007 and 10 percent were overturned in 2008, insiders told China Daily.