China’s top prosecutor Cao Jianming says preventing wrongful convictions is the biggest task facing China’s legal supervisory body.
His comments come as high-profile cases in recent years show the mainland’s judicial system has become riddled with false charges.
Taking strict precautions against such mistakes “is the fundamental requirement for the political and judicial bodies [such as procuratorate and courts]”, said Cao, Procurator-General of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, according to a report in the influential news magazine Caixin.
His comments were made in a speech at Wednesday’s new semester opening ceremony of the National Prosecutors College, in Beijing.
Cao said wrongful convictions in recent years could be blamed on the biased mindset of some judiciary officials.
Problems included people’s presumption of guilty, excessive emphasis on testimonies, and more importance being placed on evidence to find someone guilty rather than to find someone innocent, Cao said.
“Illegal evidence should be excluded by law and for uncertain cases [and] we should stick with presumption of innocence,” he was quoted as saying.
Only last week the Fuzhou High People’s Court declared shop owner Nian Bin, 38, innocent of the fatal poisoning of two children in 2006.
The court reversed an earlier decision by the Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court, which had sentenced Nian to death in 2008 after he had confessed to the crime while being interrogated by police.
Traces of rat poison had been found on the door handle of the apartment rented by Nian, which was next door to the children’s home.
However, Nian’s family had mounted a high-profile social media campaign claiming that he had been tortured to confess to the crime he did not commit.
In Wednesday’s speech Cao mentioned two other high-profile cases involving people being falsely charged.
In both cases, people had gone through the entire criminal process, only for “mistakes to have been repeated time and again and stuck with at the end”, he said.
Cao mentioned the case of Zhang Gaoping – sentenced to death, with a two-year reprieve – and his nephew, Zhang Hui – given a 15-year prison sentence – after they were tortured into confessing to the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl in 2003.
Last year the Zhejiang Higher People’s Court declared both men were innocent. They were released in March last year after new evidence, including DNA findings, identified another possible suspect.
Authorities also admitted that the evidence presented during the men’s trials was not sufficient to warrant the convictions.
The men, who are both truck drivers, and offered the victim a ride more than decade ago, were also each awarded compensation of 1.16 million yuan (about HK$1.4 million).
In the second case, an Anhui man was acquitted last year of murdering his wife. He had been convicted in 1996 and served 17 years of a life sentence.
The Anhui Provincial Higher People’s Court ruled that in the original trial, facts about the alleged murder had been unclear and evidence against him had been inadequate.