China to amend law to prevent forced confessions

Updated: 2011-08-24 19:07


  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

BEIJING - China's top legislature will revise the Criminal Procedure Law to prevent judges from accepting confessions from tortured suspects and giving these suspects more defense options in a bid to ensure justice while protecting defendants' human rights.

A draft amendment submitted Wednesday to the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee states that "evidence and confessions collected through torture, violence and threats should not be accepted."

"Procuratorial organs should investigate allegations of collecting evidence through illegal methods," according to the draft.

Interrogators suspected of collecting confessions or evidence through illegal methods should be prosecuted as criminals, it said.

It also states that all interrogations of criminal suspects should be conducted in detention houses and that the entire interrogation should be videotaped in the most serious criminal cases, according to the draft amendment.

Legal experts say the draft amendment will help improve the protection of criminal suspects' human rights following repeated cases of forced confessions and misappropriated justice.

Last year, Zhao Zuohai in central Henan province was acquitted and released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for murder after the supposedly murdered victim was found alive. Zhao had been forced through torture to plead guilty.

The draft amendment has also added articles to the law giving suspects held in custody more freedom to meet their defense attorney.

A legitimate defense lawyer has the right to meet his client in custody to ask for information and provide consultative services, and detention houses should arrange the meeting within 48 hours.

A defense lawyer's meeting with a suspect should not be monitored, the draft amendment said.

According to Chen Weidong, a professor with Renmin University of China, similar articles concerning lawyers' rights to meet clients are contained in the country's Law on Lawyers, but have not been greatly enforced.

"Investigative departments usually make all kinds of excuses to prevent lawyers from seeing their clients, leading to situations where lawyers don't want to accept criminal cases for 'all the embarrassment,'" Chen said.

Chinese legal experts, including Chen, welcomed the draft amendment, calling it a great improvement in balancing crime fighting and protecting human rights.

"If approved, it will be a significant amendment in terms of civilization, humanity and scientific design within present legal frames, though there is still room for improvement," said Chen.

The Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Justice jointly issued two sets of regulations in May last year that lay out detailed procedures for invalidating the confessions of tortured suspects who could face death penalty.

The draft amendment's new content has adopted many of the ideas of the two regulations, Chen said.

The draft also prohibits the practice of self-incrimination and gives a suspect's close relatives the right to decide whether to appear in court as witnesses.

"Forcing a suspect's spouse, parents or children to testify against him or her in court goes against maintaining smooth family relations," the draft said.

"This stipulation is in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also shares the principle of 'presumption of innocence' in legal theory," said Chen.

In an effort to help minors transition smoothly into society after serving their sentences, the amendment also states that the criminal records of those under the age of 18 who received sentences of less than five years cannot be accessed by any organization or individual outside of judicial organs.

"Only judicial organs have the right to view these records for the sole use of investigation, and they should keep the information confidential," the amendment added.

The Criminal Procedure Law was instituted in 1979 and was revised in 1996.

The draft amendment, with 99 articles covering various topics, including evidence collection, forced measures, the defense system, investigation methods, enforcement and special procedures, is expected to expand the new criminal procedural law from 225 articles to 285.

"The draft follows the rules of distributing power among judiciary organs and strikes a balance between fighting crime and protecting human rights," said Wang Shangxin, an official with the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee.

"We try to use the law to punish criminals promptly and precisely to safeguard civil and social interests, and to protect the suspect's or defendant's legitimate rights at the same time," he said.