Monday, 27 February 2006

Open courts to hear China’s death row appeals

China's chief justice Xiao Yang has confirmed that all appeals against death sentences must be heard in an open court from the second half of 2006.

On 25 February, the China Daily reported comments by the head of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) at a seminar in Zhengzhou in Central China's Henan Province.

Xiao Yang was quoted as saying: "The move will ensure justice and caution in death penalty rulings."

The moves are part of a series of reforms aimed at restoring confidence in China's justice system. Under a policy the media have termed 'kill fewer, kill carefully', the Supreme People's Court will also be reasserting its power to hear all appeals in death penalty cases.

On Monday, legal scholar Liu Renwen, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told reporters that some local governments were resisting moves by the Supreme Court to take from provincial high courts the power to hear appeals.

During 2005 there was an unprecedented level of discussion in China – and expression of public anger – about a number of high-profile miscarriages of justice involving police torture, wrongful convictions and ultimately the execution of innocent people. Official media and websites permitted very rare public criticism of these failures in the justice system.

Capital cases are usually heard by intermediate courts, which have been criticised by human rights organisations for political interference, corruption and poor judicial standards.

Appeals are currently heard by provincial-level High People’s Courts, often on the basis of a closed-door judicial review of the case.

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