Enact legal reform, says rights group

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2001, 12:00am

A US-based human rights group will publish a report today urging the Chinese Government to implement legislation to better safeguard defendants' and lawyers' rights.

The report, by New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC), comes six days ahead of the release of annual work reports by the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate at the National People's Congress (NPC).

Court President Xiao Yang and Procurator-General Han Zhubin are expected to report to NPC delegates on Saturday that the two judicial bodies have achieved a high conviction rate in the past year.

An increasing number of NPC delegates have in recent years expressed disapproval at the performance of the judicial system by voting against the two work reports at the end of the congress.

The rights group's report documents extensive research into China's judicial system and implementation of the Criminal Procedure Law.

The legislation, amended by the NPC five years ago and coming into effect in January 1997, was praised at the time for providing defendants with greater human rights protection and lawyers with more leeway to defend their clients.

'HRIC concludes that the implementation of the Criminal Procedure Law has departed substantially from both the letter and the spirit of the law,' the report says.

'Our investigation shows that the authorities appear to have been unwilling to allow the limited safeguards in the revised law to have a significant impact on protecting rights in practice, and have refused to act, whether through enacting legislation or administrative rules, to remedy deficiencies in areas where further reforms were very evidently needed.'

The HRIC report is based on statistics collected from official publications such as the China Law Year Book, official and internal documents issued by the authorities and interviews with 30 lawyers and a dozen judges throughout China.

By comparing figures provided each year to the NPC by the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, HRIC found a conviction rate of 98 to 99 per cent.

The group attributed the high rate to collaboration between the police, prosecutors and the judiciary.

'Due to co-operation among the authorities, the fate of most cases is decided well before the cases are tried,' the report says.

Although the amended Criminal Procedure Law promises defendants the right to legal counsel, HRIC found that the law was often ignored.

It is not clear if NPC delegates will demand an explanation from government officials over the Criminal Procedure Law and the state of its implementation when the lawmaking body opens its annual session today.

But the NPC Standing Committee, which enacts laws and scrutinises the Government's performance when the NPC is in recess, sent investigators to six provinces and cities including Heilongjiang and Tianjin to review the implementation of the law.

The group concluded that violations of the Criminal Procedure Law existed, especially in areas such as unlawful detention of suspects, torture, and violation of lawyers' rights.