'Right to be silent' may be granted

By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-05-18 07:00

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..."

These words, familiar to many from Hollywood movies or cops-and-robbers TV shows, could be uttered by Chinese police if an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law, scheduled for October, is approved.

"There's little debate over whether to include the stipulation that suspects shall not be forced to admit guilt," Chen Ruihua, a law professor at Peking University involved in the amendment of the law, said. "If approved, it means that suspects will have the right to keep silent in interrogations."

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Chen Guangzhong, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law who also participated in drafting the amendment, said legislators were also considering whether to allow lawyers to be present during the whole interrogation process.

A draft amendment the All- China Lawyers Association (ACLA) submitted last month to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the top legislature, included both stipulations.

The existing Criminal Procedure Law, amended in 1997, requires suspects to truthfully answer investigators' questions during interrogations. It also stipulates that lawyers are allowed in the case only after the first interrogation.

These stipulations are believed to be at the root of forced confessions.

An inspection by the NPC Standing Committee in 2000 showed that forced confessions did exist in the country. "Some police officers even take turns to question the suspect, and an interrogation could last for days," Chen Ruihua said.

It is believed that such changes will help prevent forced confessions and facilitate lawyers' increased participation in criminal defense.

Chen Ruihua said several cases in which the administration of justice had gone awry made the revisions urgent.

For instance, Zhao Xinjian, a farmer from Bozhou, Anhui Province, was freed last year after eight years in jail when the real murderer confessed.

In 2005, She Xianglin, who had spent 11 years in jail for "killing" his wife in Hubei Province, was released after the woman turned up alive.

Both the victims claimed they were tortured during interrogations.

However, experts said it was still early to say whether the amendment would finally include the two stipulations because of opposition from police departments.

In February, the Legal Daily published an article by Ke Liangdong, director of the legal affairs department of the Ministry of Public Security, who said: "During the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law, there's a tendency to overprotect the suspects but ignore the rights of victims; there's also a tendency to overstress the rights of lawyers but weaken effective means to fight crime."

Tian Wenchang, director of the ACLA criminal defense committee, said the article reflected the biggest problem in the amendment: the conflict between cracking down on crime and protecting human rights.

He admitted that if suspects remain silent, solving some crimes could be more difficult.

"But the change is a must," he said, adding that the revision would also streamline the litigation process, as investigators would try harder to collect evidence instead of getting confessions.

The Ministry of Justice has also pointed out it was unrealistic for lawyers to be present during all interrogations, as more than 200 counties have no lawyers.

"Allowing lawyers' full participation in cases where suspects face the death penalty or life sentence might be more practical," Chen Guangzhong said.

(China Daily 05/18/2007 page1)

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