CHINA / National

SPC to hire lawyers, teachers for death penalty reviews
Updated: 2006-06-30 15:54

China's highest court is working on a plan to take in lawyers and law school teachers as senior judges as it prepares to reassume its authority to review death penalty cases.

A candidate list of lawyers and law teachers who have decade-long experience in criminal lawsuits has been sent to the Supreme People's Court (SPC) by provincial judicial organs, Xiong Xuanguo, vice-president of the SPC, said.

Those with strong political qualifications and a sense of responsibility will be chosen as judges on death penalty reviews, he said without specifying any possible figure.

The SPC had been responsible for reviewing death penalty cases until 1983 when the authority was handed down to provincial courts as part of a crackdown on crime.

However, the practice of provincial courts both considering death sentence appeals and conducting the final review has long been criticized for leading to miscarriages of justice, prompting the SPC to announce plans to reassume its judicial authority last year.

A timetable for the reform is still unavailable, as local courts need time to readjust and the SPC has to increase its pool of judges to meet the rising workload, analysts say.

Over 30 judges from higher and intermediary people's courts have been chosen for the first batch to Beijing.

Having received three months of training, they will have to go through a probationary year before officially assuming office.

"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," said Xiong.

In cases where the prosecution and defence do not have conflicting opinions, the SPC will likely give the final verdict based on files of the first two hearings by local courts.

For cases in dispute, judges may question the defendant and hear the prosecution arguments, but details on the possibility of open trials remain to be discussed.

Video taping of death sentence appeals will begin on July 1 in addition to the cases being heard in open court.

Presidents and presiding judges are required to be chief judges in appeals against death sentences to ensure the handling of every death penalty case "bears the test of time", said Chief Justice Xiao Yang.

"All higher people's courts should proceed with trials in an independent and fair way and are not allowed to ask the highest court for an opinion except in the application of the law," he said.