Henan courts to abolish practice of forcing defendants to shave heads and wear prison suits

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 11:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 11:15am

Courts in central China’s Henan province have developed a pilot scheme that would abolish the decades-long court protocol of forcing defendants charged with criminal offences to wear prison suits and have their heads shaved at hearings, Zhengzhou Evening News reported on Tuesday, quoting a top provincial court official.

“Before a defendant receives a sentence or is put in prison, no one can pre-judge him as a criminal,” said Zhang Liyong, director of Henan High People’s Court.

“A defendant wearing a prison suit and having a shaved head or being locked up in a cage in court are all signs of ‘presumption of guilt’.”

The Henan high court however is yet to set a date for the pilot scheme, which is believed to be the first on the mainland. The scheme arose after increasing public dismay over double standards as some of the elite have often been exempted from observing the court protocol.

A defendant wearing a prison suit and having a shaved head or being locked up in a cage in court are all signs of ‘presumption of guilt’
Zhang Liyong

For example, former Chongqing party secretary and a former Politburo member of the Communist Party Bo Xilai, who is serving a life sentence for corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power, was not forced to wear a prison suit nor have his head shaved during his court appearances in August and September this year.

Speaking at a court work conference on Monday, Zhang said that the provincial high court would work with the police and the prosecutors’ office in reforming the court trial system to give both plaintiffs and defendants equal footing in court hearings.

Another point of reform is that defendants will no longer be required to sit in the middle of a courtroom facing the judge, which Zhang said put the defendants at a visible disadvantage.

Instead they will be seated with their lawyers on one side of the judge, facing the prosecutors’ team on the other side.

“A defendant is the one most qualified to defend him or herself, but once he or she is referred as criminal suspect in court, how can the principle of presumption of innocence be observed?” Zhang asked.

Zhang said that defendants should have restraints such as handcuffs and shackles removed before a court hearing and should also be provided with paper, pens or notebooks to facilitate their defence.

The courts can make an exemption for those deemed to have a violent history pending a prior approval, he added.