China tightens control over death sentence

Updated: 2006-10-27 17:15

China's top legislature on Friday began to deliberate a draft amendment to the law on the country's court system, in an effort to restrict the power of provincial courts in issuing death sentences.

Once pronounced by provincial courts, all death penalties must be reviewed and ratified by the Supreme People's Court (SPC), according to the draft amendment to the country's organic law on the people's courts.

The draft, tabled to the 24th session of the Standing Committee of 10th National People's Congress (NPC) for the first reading, is supposed to come into effect on January 1, 2007, with the approval of the legislature.

The SPC had been responsible for reviewing all death penalty cases until 1983 when, as part of a major crime crackdown, provincial courts were authorized to issue the final verdicts on death sentences on crimes that seriously endangered public security and social order, including homicide, rape, robbery and bombing.

The revision is widely believed to have contributed to the reduction of the country's crime rate in the mid 1980s. Ministry of Public Security figures in September 1984 showed that the number of criminal cases from January to August that year was down 31 percent on the previous year.

However, the practice of provincial courts both considering death sentence appeals and conducting the final review has long been criticized for causing miscarriages of justice.
From the beginning of 2005, the Chinese media has exposed several errors in the judgement of death sentence cases, criticizing courts for lacking caution in handing down capital punishment.

Sources with the supreme court said the SPC had been considering taking back the power to ratify death sentences from the provincial courts since 1999.

In October 2005, the SPC issued its Second Five-Year (2006-2010) Reform Plan, announcing that it had decided to take back the power from the provincial courts according to the principle of "respecting and protecting human rights and exerting strict controls over the death penalty."


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