Extensive changes will be made to the mainland's Criminal Procedure Law according to a draft revision submitted to the National People's Congress Standing Committee yesterday.
The draft has not yet been made available to the public but according to Xinhua the changes cover all stages from arrest, detention and interrogation to trial, as well as much-called-for reforms to the evidence and witness system, and the rights of defence counsel.
The first draft includes a list of 99 amendments and expands the law from 225 clauses to 285. The law, introduced in 1979, was last amended 15 years ago. The draft may have to undergo more rounds of reading before adopted by the legislature.
A Standing Committee spokesman said the changes reflected the authorities' efforts to deal with some 'incompatibility problems' that had emerged between the criminal justice system and a rapidly developing society. It also aimed to strike a balance between punishing crime and protecting human rights.
Meanwhile the legal community hopes that the changes will be enforced this time around, and that a ban on the use of torture to obtain confessions will finally be heeded.
Mainland media reports say that for the first time the draft states that it is a citizen's duty to testify about what they know about a case. It also sets up a system to compel witnesses to testify in court and protect witnesses in cases where retribution is feared.
Also for the first time, police may be made to testify in court, and witnesses who refuse to give evidence to police or testify in court without an appropriate reason may be detained for up to 10 days. However, there will be exceptions to this rule, covering spouses, parents and children.
'They will still have to give evidence, but they can say no to testifying in court,' Professor Fan Chongyi of the Chinese University of Political Science and Law said. 'This is in line with Chinese tradition where families protect each other.'
The draft also specifies that evidence obtained through illegal means should not be accepted, and that interrogators suspected of using such illegal means should be prosecuted as criminals. The draft also says a suspect cannot be made to give self-incriminating evidence.
The draft reportedly tries to bring the Criminal Procedure Law in line with the more rights-oriented Lawyers Law of 2007, for example by specifying that lawyers can meet suspects during the investigation stage upon presentation of necessary documents, without the need for permission from interrogators, and also to meet suspects or defendants unmonitored.
The draft also specifies that interrogations must take place in detention houses - as opposed to other sites where abuse could easily occur - and they should be videotaped in serious cases.
The proportion of criminal cases that end in convictions based on confessions, according to a Hong Kong study