Sunday, 2 July 2006

Political questions over China's new appeal judges

China's supreme court is preparing to hear appeals against death sentences, but it appears the new system will still raise concerns about political interference in the administration of the death penalty.

Xinhua newsagency reports the Supreme People's Court (SPC) is recruiting new judges from a list of experienced lawyers and law teachers nominated by provincial judicial organs.

The report said those with "strong political qualifications and a sense of responsibility" would be chosen as judges to hear death penalty reviews, according to SPC Vice-President Xiong Xuanguo.

In April, Xinhua reported that tribunal staff had been selected from regional courts across China and they were receiving a month of training in Beijing.

Xinhua said that the move by the SPC "appears to be a response to many Chinese media reports in recent years, which exposed wrongful death penalty sentences, sparking public debate". (See the ADP report here.)

It is still unclear when the supreme court will begin hearing appeals or how the provincial courts will respond to the reassertion of authority by the SPC.

Xiong Xuanguo was quoted in the latest Xinhua report as saying: "Taking back the power of death penalty review is the final safeguard (against miscarriages of justice). We'll ensure the sentence is appropriate and follow the principle of strictly controlling the passing down of the death penalty."

Xinhua said the SPC's appeal judges may question the defendant and hear the prosecution arguments, where the case is in dispute between the prosecution and defence.

Where the prosecution and defence "do not have conflicting opinions", the SPC is likely to base its decision on a review of the files from the hearings in the local courts.

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