BEIJING, June 27 (Xinhua) -- China's top legislature Friday approved a pilot program to speed up trials for minor criminal offenses.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) adopted a resolution authorizing the Supreme People's Court (SPC) and Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) to start the program.
Cases can be fast-tracked when the facts are clear, the evidence is sufficient, the law is not contested, the defendant pleads guilty and sentence will be no more than one year or a fine.
Fast-track trials can be for traffic offences, minor theft or fraud, assault and robbery.
Fast-tracking means court investigation and debate may be waived, said Chief Justice Zhou Qiang as he explained the bill to legislators on Monday. A normal trial is allowed to proceed for a maximum three months.
The pilot will officially start when a procedural guideline is announced and will run for two years, in 18 cities including Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Tianjin, where cases are piling up.
According to the SPC, about 38 percent of criminal cases ended up with sentences of less than one year in 2013. The number has increased partly because drunk driving has been a crime since 2011.
Chen Weidong of Renmin University, told Xinhua that putting these cases through normal proceedings was a waste of resources and meant defendants often spent longer in custody than necessary.
"Judges give a prison terms of at least as long as the time the defendant spends in jail before the case is closed. In some cases the sentence is more severe than it should be," Chen said.
A fast track trial will help prevent this situation and improve the efficiency of many courts that are overloaded and shorthanded, he said.
Lawmakers are concerned about justice and protection of defendants' rights without court investigation and debate. Liu Zhenwei, an NPC Standing Committee member, believes that with so much discretion granted to judges, the guidelines must be very clear.
Consent of defendants is a precondition to fast-tracking and, even without court investigation and debate, the defendant can still make a final statement before the judge, and appeal. To protect the rights of defendants, detention centers will offer legal advice upon request. Courts must ensure that defendants plead voluntarily and understand the legal consequences of the fast-track policy.
Another controversy is the judges' right to allow some fast track trials to proceed behind closed doors on the basis of defendants' requests for privacy. Lawmakers argued that this arrangement will be manipulated by celebrities or officials who wish to escape the public gaze. Xu Xianming, an NPC Standing Committee member, suggested strict restrictions on such requests.
Friday's resolution requires the SPC and SPP to report the development of the pilot to the top legislature after a year, who will consider amendments based on the result of the pilot after it ends.