BEIJING, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) said Tuesday it had issued guidelines for courts nationwide to handle criminal cases with a policy of "justice tempered with mercy," stressing that death penalty use be limited.
The guidelines say the death penalty should be "resolutely" handed down to those who have committed "extremely serious" crimes, but that the punishment should be reserved for the tiny minority of criminals against which there is valid and ample evidence.
The guidelines also say that capital punishment reprieves should be granted for as long as they are allowed by law.
The guidelines are an interpretation of the "justice tempered with mercy" policy and details on the judicial principles used when handling criminal cases, SPC spokesman Sun Jungong said.
The "justice tempered with mercy" policy was first enacted in a document approved in 2006 by the Sixth Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
The policy required courts to issue both severe and lenient sentences, depending on the seriousness of each crime.
According to the guidelines, crimes involving officials taking advantage of their position and mafia-style gangs should be handled "with severity."
Severity should also be applied to repeat offenders.
On the other hand, the document says minors and senior citizens who commit crimes should be punished with leniency.
Commutation and paroles for ex-officials who took advantage of their public position, especially those at county-level or above, are required to be heard at court.
Commutations for criminals convicted of major crimes like murder and robbery are to be strictly limited, the guidlines say.