Justice system reform debated

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 October, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 1995, 12:00am

DIFFERENT ministries are debating how to amend the Criminal Procedural Law to give lawyers early access to their clients, Chinese legal sources said.

About 20 amendments are expected to be made to the 1979 legislation and drafts are being made for submission to the National People's Congress for approval next March.

The amendments cover four key areas: Early access for defence lawyers to clients; Abolition of the use of 'shelter for examination' or preventative detention; Trial procedures; and The role of the procuracy.

If the amendments are implemented, China's criminal justice system will move one step closer to the common law system in the West, sources said.

Under these drafts, defence lawyers will be allowed to visit their clients while in police custody.

At present, mainland lawyers can only interview their clients seven days before trial and, in some cases, after conviction.

While both the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuracy supported the change, the Ministry of Public Security opposes it.

The police argue the change would weaken their power to fight crime and interfere in police investigation.

However, the judiciary, procuracy and police have agreed in principle to abolish preventative detention under which a suspect can be held for three months without charges. But a consensus has been reached to lower the legal requirements for formal arrest.

In addition, a better administered bail system will be put in place.

However, police will retain their power to put a suspect under 'administrative detention' and 're-education through labour'. Under the first category, police can detain a suspect for 15 days. In the second category, any person can be locked up by police for as long as three years. Judicial review is allowed for both types of police sanction.

Other amendments focus on trial proceedings. At present, sentences are often decided before trials and the court proceedings are mostly show trials to announce pre-determined verdicts.

It is recommended prosecutors will be required to present evidence, cross-examine witnesses and make legal arguments in courts. Trials by affidavit will be disallowed.

Judges will assume a more 'neutral' role in trials. Since defence lawyers will be allowed early access to their clients, judges will be able to examine arguments prepared and evidence collected by both the prosecution and defence.

At present, judges decide the verdict based on the prosecution's case and defence attorneys can rarely influence the outcome of trials.