More courts formed to review death penalties

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2005, 12:00am

Law should make it compulsory for all those convicted to appeal: professor

The Supreme People's Court has formed more criminal courts to cope with an increased caseload after it regains the final say over death penalty rulings, according to a leading academic.

Chen Weidong , a Renmin University professor who is part of a panel of experts reviewing criminal prosecution law, told the state-controlled Guangzhou Daily that three courts had been set up to review death penalties handed down by lower-level bodies once the reform of death penalty rulings was completed.

The paper also quoted a Supreme Court source as saying that Beijing had already deployed more than 300 judges from local courts to work in the top judicial body.

Mr Chen did not reveal the details of the review, which was first announced during the National People's Congress meeting in March. The reform, which aims to improve scrutiny of death penalty decisions, could be implemented as soon as next year.

But he suggested that authorities should make it compulsory for anyone who received the death penalty or a life sentence to appeal.

All suspects should have the 'right to silence', and the right to be 'accompanied by a lawyer during police interrogation'. Witnesses should also be compelled to appear in court.

However, the absence of witnesses in court hearings has been the norm in mainland trials. At the same time, the extraction of confessions by torture is common.

A victim of the system is She Xianglin , who confessed to murdering his wife after suffering severe beatings. He was sentenced to life in jail but officially declared innocent after serving 11 years when his wife reappeared.

He Weifang , an outspoken law professor at Peking University, said yesterday it would be a big change in the judicial system to introduce measures to protect the rights of those on trial.

'In the past, the key function of law was striking bad people and all the convicts were damned. But now even the capital prisoner will be given the compulsory right of appeal,' he said.

National People's Congress delegate Chen Zhonglin said he believed the changes in the system would take a long time to filter down among judicial personnel.

'The new law will be effective when all officials realise that they are civil servants. They should serve the people, not restrain the people, because their payments come from public taxes,' he said.

'It is not the problem of the judicial system but human imperfection among our government officials,' said Professor Chen, who is dean of the law faculty at the Southeast University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing .

According to the Rome-based group Hands Off Cain, China carried out almost 90 per cent of the world's executions last year, putting at least 5,000 to death.