Web critics attack court over lenient sentences

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 February, 2007, 12:00am

Offenders give victims cash to get their sentence cut - but not everyone can pay

A sentencing practice in a Guangdong city, which allows offenders to buy their way out of jail time by compensating their victims has been applauded by legal analysts and condemned on the internet.

The Yangcheng Evening News reports that courts in Dongguan have reduced sentences for criminals in more than 30 cases in which the defendants paid money to the victims of their crime with the victims' approval.

In one case, a murderer had his death sentence commuted to life in jail after he paid 50,000 yuan to his victim's family, while his two cohorts in the killings were given the death penalty. The murderer's sentence was commuted with the approval of the victim's relatives.

Media reports about the sentencing approach have generated opposition from internet critics who have decried the practice as an injustice that helps wealthy criminals escape their legal obligations.

'Everyone should be equal in front of the law, no matter whether you are rich or poor,' one commentator wrote on Sina.com.

Another respondent said: 'This is openly buying lives with money. Is the court a vegetable market? Is a person's life worth a cabbage?'

But mainland legal experts said the criticism reflected the need for greater public education about the legal system.

Peking University law professor Chen Xingliang said more lenient sentences were within legal boundaries and justice was a relative concept.

'It is not whether to acquit a suspect or not. It is about sentencing. When the defendant pays for the victim's loss and receives the victim's forgiveness, judges should take it into consideration when sentencing,' Professor Chen said.

Professor Chen said concerns that judges could use the discretionary power to favour the rich were unfounded. 'We should strengthen the supervision of judges and make sure the mechanisms operate well, but discretionary power does not necessarily lead to corruption,' he said.

He said the public outcry was more a reflection of public hatred towards the rich.

Outspoken Beijing lawyer Qian Lieyang said: 'The public should respect the independent rulings of judges. And public criticism should not try to undermine justice.'

Mr Qian said the public belief in the idea of 'a life for a life' was an obstacle to the new principle of carrying out fewer executions.

In recent years, mainland authorities have pledged to reduce the number of death sentences and have tried to resolve disputes rather than resorting to heavy-handed sentencing.

In 2000, the Supreme People's Court granted judges the discretionary power to hand down more lenient sentences when criminals compensated their victims.