More staff for death penalty reviews

Updated: 2007-06-23 00:55

China's courts will hire 1,900 more staff for open court trials for second instance death sentence cases, according to a source with the Supreme People's Court (SPC).

"Over the past year, the SPC has been recruiting personnel for local courts where case numbers are high," the unnamed SPC official told an inspection team of the National People's Congress, the parliament, in a working report.

According to China's Criminal Procedural Law, since July 2006, open court sessions are obligatory when a second instance case is defended by a people's procuratorate.

Previously, most appeal cases -- even death penalty cases -- were not been heard in open court because of a lack of qualified personnel.

A local court source confirmed that understaffing often made it impossible to try death penalty cases in open court sessions.

Since 2005, Chinese media have exposed several errors of judgement in death sentence cases and have criticized courts for a lack of caution.

If second instance trials are not heard openly, the public do not feel convinced -- the process is not transparent, the rights and interests of the accused are not fully protected, and judicial errors could occur," said the source, adding that the second line of defence is vital in correcting mistakes in original verdicts and preventing injustices.

Last year, about 25,000 new staff were added to Chinese courts to beef up local courts.

Statistics show that last year 889,042 people were convicted by courts at all levels across the country, and 153,724 people received sentences longer than five years, including life imprisonment and death penalty.

Figures from the Beijing No. 1 and No. 2 intermediate people's courts indicate that in the first five months of 2007 the number of death sentences dropped 10 percent from last year.

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