Law overhaul disappoints, reformers say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 August, 2011, 12:00am

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The new Criminal Procedural Law should make 'protecting human rights' a central principle to bring the statute in line with the country's constitution, top mainland legal experts said.

Draft amendments reported by mainland media this week suggest the soon-to-be-revised law's Article One would only state its intent as 'punishing crime' and 'protecting the people' - wording that legal reformers say falls short of what the country needs to improve its criminal justice system.

'The word 'people' should be changed to 'human rights',' said Professor Chen Guangzhong , from the Chinese University of Political Science and Law. 'Only then will it be clear in including the rights of criminal suspects, defendants and those who have been convicted. This is also in line with our constitution.'

The constitution was amended in 2004 to say 'the country respects and protects human rights'.

Chen's view was echoed by National People's Congress Standing Committee member Ren Maodong , who told The Beijing News that the purpose of the Criminal Procedural Law was to protect not only people as a general concept, but citizens - criminals included.

Passed in 1979 and revised in 1996, the Criminal Procedural Law is going through another round of major revisions this year, with the first draft of 99 amendments tabled for discussion this week by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. Given the long list of amendments, and the extensive debate the draft amendments have generated, legal experts predict any changes will undergo a few drafts before they are passed into law.

Professor Chen Weidong, from Renmin University, said changes of such significance would most likely be passed at a full plenary session of the National People's Congress, or March at the earliest.

Chen Weidong praised measures to prevent the use of torture in obtaining confessions and called an amendment to prohibit a defendant from being forced to give evidence against himself a major step forward.

But he hoped the next draft would also strike a clause that compelled a suspect to 'provide answers honestly' and he described as regrettable a decision not to bar illegally obtained evidence from proceedings.

Similarly, Chen Guangzhong said efforts to protect family members close to the accused from testifying in court were minimal because they could still be made to give evidence.

The professor called amendments that would, for the first time, make the police part of the judiciary inappropriate. 'It is against China's own political structure and international practice to list police in the same category as the courts and the procuratorates,' he said.