Supreme court targets 'judicial injustice'

By Xie Chuanjiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-05 06:50

Different yardsticks for applying the death penalty have led to "judicial injustice".

Zhang Jun, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, acknowledged yesterday that uneven standards applied during mandatory second-instance trials by provincial high courts in cases involving the death penalty have led to problems during the review by the highest court.

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"The Supreme People's Court will gradually unify standards for penalties for similar categories of criminal cases across the country," Zhang told a Beijing work conference attended by high court presidents.

Ni Shouming, the apex court's spokesman, told China Daily that different penalty criteria exist because of complex and complicated local conditions in the huge country, but are mainly for economic and drug-trafficking crimes.

For instance, a drug trafficker in Yunnan Province can be given capital punishment if the case involves 300 grams of drugs or more, while in neighboring Guizhou Province, 150 grams can attract the death penalty.

Ni said unified guidelines for pronouncing the death penalty in four categories of crimes - murder, robbery, drugs and intentional injury, which usually draw the largest number of death sentences - will be released within the year.

The move will be another major milestone in the reform of the judicial system after the Supreme People's Court took back the power to review and ratify all death sentences starting from January 1 this year.

In the early 1980s, the highest court began to grant provincial courts the authority to pronounce death sentences amid rising crime; but the practice has been widely criticized in recent years, especially after reports of miscarriage of justice.

Zhang said the review has reduced the number of death sentences in China, and "human rights protection is constantly improving".

He did not provide the number.

Last month, Beijing No 1 and No 2 intermediate people's courts said the number of death sentences in first trials resulting in immediate execution had dropped 10 percent year-on-year in the first five months of this year.

The Heilongjiang High People's Court is the first in the country to detail 13 circumstances for reference in dealing with cases of death penalty with a reprieve, in line with the principle "capital punishment should be reserved for only an extremely small number of serious offenders".

A total of 14 people in the province were given death penalty with a reprieve this year after they had been sentenced to death resulting in immediate execution in first trials.

Nan Ying, president of the court, said yesterday that no litigants sought appeals because they were satisfied with proceedings.

During the first five months of this year, 342,854 people were convicted by courts at all levels across the country, and 56,056 received sentences longer than five years. The figure includes life terms and executions.

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