The job of a criminal judge at a district court in a city in Shandong Province has become easier with the introduction of a software system that helps with sentencing.
After entering relevant details, such as the crime and mitigating circumstances, the system comes up with an appropriate sentence.
The electronic advice does not, however, have to be followed by judges, who still have the power to hand down their own sentences.
Chen Xingliang, a law professor at Peking University, together with six other scholars from the Supreme People's Court, Tsinghua University, Renmin University of China and the China University of Political Science and Law, all sang the praises of the new computer help.
"The system will avoid different penalties for the same crime. Its usage will help enhance the efficiency of criminal trials," a joint appraisal document by the experts said.
However, others in society are opposed to the use of the software, which is being used in Zichuan District in the city of Zibo.
The recent case of local farmer Li Jiaxin, who was charged with wilful and malicious injury after he used a knife to injure the face and an arm of his victim, demonstrates the system's use.
The victim was slightly injured after which Li Jiaxin delivered himself to police and paid compensation of 17,800 yuan (US$2,200).
When using the software to sentence the criminal, the judge imputed the crime for which the sentence was half-a-year imprisonment.
Then the victim's injury level was entered and the software showed that another three-months' imprisonment should be added.
When the facts that Li Jiaxin surrendered to police and that he paid compensation on his own initiative were imputed into the software, the computer said that 20 per cent of the sentence should be knocked off for each act.
It took 3 minutes to use the software to conclude that Li Jiaxin's penalty should be 5.4-months in prison.
But because the criminal used a knife to injure his victim and it was a serious crime, the judge decided to give a six-month sentence to Li.
"The judge had the right to add or reduce the sentence based on the penalty calculated using the software," Wang Hongmei, chief judge at the court, told China Daily yesterday.
The court began to use the system this March following three years of research .
"We aim to establish a regular sentence pattern for criminal trials to avoid different penalties for the same crime," she said.
"Local residents will doubt the fairness of laws if penalties differ," according to Wang Fusheng, court president.
However, Yan Li, a law professor at Shanghai University, warned there should be caution when using the software to decide penalties as every single case had different factors.
(China Daily 09/07/2006 page3)