The country's chief justice yesterday said the highest court will "never
again" grant the final say on pronouncing the death penalty to provincial
"We will never go back to the situation 26 years ago and retrogress," Xiao
Yang, president of the Supreme People's Court, said on the sidelines of the
annual session of the country's top legislature.
He was referring to 1981 when the apex court began to grant provincial courts
the authority to hand down death sentences amid rising crimes following the
"cultural revolution" (1966-76).
The practice, which had drawn criticism especially after reports of
miscarriage of justice, came to an end on January 1, when the Supreme People's
Court was given the sole power to review and ratify all death sentences to
ensure they are processed with "extreme caution".
"A case involving a human life is a matter of vital importance," Xiao said.
"We can never be more careful in this regard."
To prepare for the major shift, the court conducted "meticulous" research and
came up with interpretations or guidelines with regard to the use of capital
punishment, he said.
In particular, it has identified major crimes and settled on criteria which
could lead to the death penalty. They include murder, robbery, rape, kidnapping,
drug trafficking and other brutal crimes.
In his annual work report to the top legislature on Tuesday, Xiao pledged
that the death penalty will be exercised "more cautiously for only a small
number of extremely serious offenders with hard evidence" and every case "will
be able to stand the test of time".
The country has been training all its judges who pass death sentences, and
the supreme court alone trained 5,500 last year, Xiao said.
"All this is to guarantee there would be no problem (in cases which could
lead to the death penalty)," he said.
Also yesterday, Ni Shouming, a spokesman for the highest court, said China
has no timetable for abolishing the death penalty although it may eventually do
so in line with international practice.
"Abolishing the capital punishment has been a global trend, and we will
eventually work toward that direction," Ni told China Daily.
Ni said it is up to the National People's Congress to decide when the capital
punishment should stop being applied.
It is unlikely to be in the near future, although at least 123 countries have
already done so, he said.
"The concept that one must pay with his or her life for a murder is
deep-rooted in the minds of many people in China," Ni said. "An early abolition
of the death penalty will not get extensive support from the general public."
The spokesman categorically denied a South China Morning Post report that
10,000 executions are being carried out annually on the Chinese mainland, saying
the figure was "unreasonable and groundless".
He reiterated that the country chose not to single out the figure for
executions but releases a total figure which includes all those sentenced to at
least five years in prison including life imprisonment and the death sentence.
In 2006, the figure was 153,724.
Last Sunday, the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate,
the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice jointly released a
circular, calling for coordinated efforts to ensure strict application of
However, the official said: "Capital punishment will be handed down to senior
corrupt officials if the evidence is clinching."
In an online interview with Xinhuanet on Tuesday, Ni also said China's
promise not to sentence the country's most-wanted fugitive Lai Changxing to
death, if he is found guilty, is an essential prerequisite to have him
repatriated from Canada.
"We made the promise to seek his repatriation, and it is the only correct
option to punish crimes and safeguard the interests of the nation," Ni said.
Lai is accused of being the mastermind behind the country's largest smuggling
(China Daily 03/15/2007 page1)