Lack of execution data, clarifications cited The country's court and procuratorate chiefs tried hard to showcase their achievements in yesterday's annual reports, but others noted the gaping holes and glossing over of some key, long-overdue judicial reforms. As in previous years, the Supreme People's Court report by Xiao Yang and the Supreme People's Procuratorate report by Jia Chunwang failed to reveal the number of people given the death penalty and executed, a figure made public in most countries and sought by human rights groups. Under the mainland's widely applied death penalty, rights groups estimate that anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 people are executed every year. Beijing resisted calls for the abolition of capital punishment, but introduced reforms after several high-profile wrongful convictions came to light. Since January last year, all death sentences must be approved by the Supreme People's Court, and all second, and final, hearings of death penalty cases must be carried out in open court. But the application of this new rule is clouded in secrecy. '[The number of executions] is considered a super state secret,' defence lawyer Mo Shaoping said. 'But without this figure, there's no way to assess how efficient the new rule is in lowering the number of death sentences.' Mr Xiao's report only said that the new system was 'progressing smoothly'. Huang Ermei , president of the criminal law chamber of the Supreme People's Court, said earlier that the court had rejected about 15 per cent of lower courts' death sentences last year. The reports also lacked a further breakdown of the 2,451 charges laid for 'endangering state secrets', which could mean a range of vaguely defined offences from leaking state secrets to inciting sedition. Judicial injustice has been a top concern for mainlanders, who have trouble bringing claims and appeals, and getting court decisions carried out. Other problems are forced confessions and corruption. Some of these problems stem from systemic inefficiencies and some from the poor quality of judges and prosecutors, but experts said the symptoms pointed to a more fundamental problem. 'The biggest problem of judicial injustice is the lack of judicial independence, but there is no mention in the report of how to systematically [remedy] this,' said He Weifang , a law professor at Peking University. 'The relationship between the judiciary and the government is still one of subordination.' Judges on the mainland are considered civil servants, and are under the supervision of the government and the Communist Party. Without tackling this and without taking steps to introduce transparency into court hearings, such as by making judgments available to the public and allowing wider media access, 'the report is only a rather mundane document jammed with numbers', Professor He said. Conceding that the reports could not deal with every problem, CPPCC delegate Zhu Zhengfu urged a change to funding courts through the governments at the same level and said judges should not be subject to the civil service management system. Other CPPCC delegates strongly advocate stepping up the battle against judicial corruption. The selection of cases due to guanxi, or connections, and severe regional protectionism were two other manifestations of judicial corruption, Qinghai provincial Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Bai Ma said yesterday. Case overload is another problem plaguing courthouses across the country, especially in western and poor regions, where judges are in extremely short supply. More staff, better training and stricter appraisals were some solutions offered. 'It is now very strict for judges to enter the profession, but there is a 'blocked exit',' Gansu Provincial People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Zhong Zhaolong said. 'In the local-level courthouses of Gansu, about one quarter of the judges are not up to the job, and no one wants them. But there is no mechanism for us to get rid of them.' Although 17,270 judicial officials have been investigated in the past five years, according to Mr Jia's report yesterday, those implicated in corruption fell from 277 to 92. The procurator general boasted of a big achievement in ensuring procedural justice by cutting the number of cases where people were detained beyond the legally permissible time from 25,000 in 2003 to 85 last year. Mr Xiao and Mr Jia have passed retirement age, and their successors are expected to be announced alongside other ministerial reshuffles at the end of the congress session. The secretary general of the Central Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, Wang Shengjun, Supreme People's Court deputy chief Cao Jianming , and Justice Minister Wu Aiying are tipped to take over the positions.