Final say in death-penalty cases is going back to the Supreme People's Court Beijing is a step closer to stripping local courts of the power to impose the death penalty without referring cases to the Supreme People's Court, following the submission of draft amendments to the People's Court Organisation Law. The amendments seek to reverse a two-decade-old statute giving higher people's courts in provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions - rather than the Supreme People's Court - the power to approve death sentences handed down by lower legal authorities. The amendments were drawn up by an expert panel and have been submitted to the Supreme People's Court, which will soon pass them on to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for final approval. A member of the drafting panel, Peking University Law School professor He Weifang , said the changes would help improve the standard of verdicts. 'Withdrawing the right of local courts to ratify the death penalty and [returning that authority] to the highest people's court is an important measure in ensuring verdict quality and citizens' human rights,' Professor He said. The Supreme People's Court was the ultimate authority on death sentences until 1983, when an increase in the number of crimes prompted the mainland to give the higher provincial courts responsibility for reviewing some death-penalty cases. Since then, provincial courts have been able to approve the execution of people convicted of undermining social order in cases such as those involving murder, rape, or bombings. The Supreme People's Court also authorised several senior provincial courts, including those in Yunnan and Guangdong, to ratify the death penalty in drug cases. Professor Song Yinghui, of the China University of Political Sciences and Law in Beijing, told the People's Daily that there was no unified standard for assessing death-penalty cases under the existing legislative arrangements. 'Courts in different regions have different standards in issuing death penalties based on their own understanding of the law,' Professor Song said. 'They usually are not as strict as the Supreme People's Court in approving a death-penalty decision.' Problems with provincial courts having the power to both issue and review death-penalty cases were highlighted by the case of a Hebei juvenile executed for killing a neighbour in Baoding in 2001. The Beijing Evening News reported the provincial higher court had handed down a death sentence and rejected an appeal by the youth's family based on the defendant's age. The family appealed to the Supreme People's Court but the youth was executed in February before the case could be heard. Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang confirmed in spring that the court was considering plans to remove the lower courts' death-penalty powers.