LEGISLATORS agree that the Criminal Procedure Law needs to be amended to give China a better image on human rights protection. As reported by the South China Morning Post last October, these proposed amendments include early access to defence lawyers, police custody, trial procedures and the administration of a bail system. Cai Cheng, a Standing Committee member of the National People's Congress and a former justice minister, was yesterday quoted as saying that miscarriage of justice could be prevented by allowing lawyers early access to their clients. 'This is a very important step in safeguarding China's image on human rights,' Mr Cai was quoted by Xinhua (the New China News Agency) as saying. At present, lawyers can only interview their clients seven days before trials. In some cases, the interviews can even be after the defendants have been convicted and sentenced. It is expected the congress will endorse most of these amendments during its annual session next March. One of the proposed amendments allows the courts to call for open hearings when the judges are convinced the prima facie evidence of the cases has been established. In other words, both prosecution and defence lawyers would have to argue their cases in open courts. Under the present system, judges examine all evidence, testimonies or affidavits and interview the defendants and witnesses ahead of the hearings. In most cases, the verdicts are decided before the trials. Another congress Standing Committee member Xia Jiajun said the amendments would provide better protection of civil rights and set a more exact definition on the roles and functions of lawyers. The amendments would lay down more specific time limits on the detention of suspects. Mainland police have often been criticised for their unruly conduct in interrogating suspects, who are frequently held beyond the legal limits. The present law allows police to take suspects into custody for as long as three years without charge. Under the proposed changes, procurators will be denied the power to find a person guilty but waive any penalty. Instead, such a right would be reserved for the judiciary and a suspect, once charged, could only be acquitted after going through a court of law. The legislators also suggested the bail system be clearly defined and specific regulations be laid down on the payment and reduction of bail.