Tuesday, 14 November 2006

China: Judges try to limit death penalty

China's most senior judges have urged courts to restrain their use of the death sentences in criminal cases, the latest sign the government is attempting to reign in the country's massive use of the death penalty.

Chinese legal experts estimate between 8,000 and 10,000 people are executed each year, following trials that human rights organisations describe as routinely unfair.

On 31 October, the Chinese government introduced reforms requiring the Supreme People's Court to review all death sentences handed down by provincial courts. The new measure will take effect from 1 January 2007.

According to the Xinhua newsagency, Xiao Yang, the President of the Supreme People's Court, urged courts to exercise "extreme caution" when handing down death sentences and said that every judgement should "stand the test of time".

"In cases where the judge has legal leeway to decide whether to order death, he should always choose not to do so," Xiao Yang said.

The death sentence should be reserved for only an "extremely small number" of serious offenders, he said.

Xiao Yang also said a death sentence should not generally be given to a convict who surrendered to police, or who helped police solve crimes.

"Judges should be very cautious, as if walking on thin ice, when it comes to the death penalty. They should ensure the facts and the evidence are all clear and the verdict is issued in accordance with law," Xiao Yang said.

The vice president of the Supreme People's Court, Jiang Xingchang, stressed that appeals against death sentences should be heard in open court, and courts should record appeals on video-tape.

Related stories:
China reforms good, but not enough -- 08 November, 2006
China: Supreme Court review from January -- 01 November, 2006
China to video death penalty appeals -- 28 May 2006
China to retain death penalty, with reforms -- 13 Mar 2006

, law reform, , human rights

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