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Court gets back power of death reviews
By Hu Cong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-14 06:25

Power to review, and when necessary overturn, death sentences, is to be returned to the Supreme People's Court.

But the abolition of capital punishment in China is not under consideration, said a top judge.

Six officials of the Chuandong Drilling Company under the Sichuan Petroleum Administration on trial in Chongqing No 2 Intermediate People's Court, in this file picture taken on July 14, 2004. China's top justice Xiao Yang and top prosecutor Jia Chunwang yesterday said the legal system will increase the crackdown on corruption and other crimes this year. [China Daily]
"Restoring the Supreme Court's power to review death sentences will help enhance the consistency of the legal system as well as the judicature's authority," Li Daomin, president of Henan Provincial High People's Court, told China Daily.

After years of deliberating taking back the power, the Supreme Court is currently recruiting and training legal professionals to sit on a special death penalty review tribunal to handle the inevitable increased workload, said Li, also an NPC deputy.

But the timetable for the return of power to the Supreme Court is not yet clear, Li added.

In his report to NPC deputies on Wednesday, Chief Justice Xiao Yang said the Supreme Court will "further perfect second-instance judgments for criminal cases and death penalty review procedures," He did not elaborate.

China's criminal procedure requires that the Supreme Court reviews every death sentence passed in the country to help avoid wrongful executions.

But the NPC Standing Committee revised some laws in the early 1980s, amid a rise in violent crimes, to allow the Supreme Court to transfer the review of death sentences for some offences of violence, such as homicide and arson, to higher provincial courts.

"The system has cost some criminals, convicted of capital offences, a last chance and caused inconsistent application of death sentences in different provinces," said Li.

Calls to limit the use of the death penalty have never abated.

"The most popular argument death penalty advocators stick to is that the brutal punishment deters crimes," said Qiu Xinglong, dean of Xiangtan University's School of Law in Hunan Province.

"But there is no scientific evidence proving the crime rate is relevant to the existence of the death penalty," said Qiu, a leading campaigner for its abolition in China.

Some other experts suggest the death penalty be dropped for those convicted of economic crimes, such as graft, and be replaced by jail terms plus heavy fines or sequestration.

"It is more civilized not to impose the death penalty on financial offenders," said Lu Jianping, professor of law at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

"That will reduce many executions and is a more acceptable option (than the abolitionist stance)," he added.

More than 70 offences carry the death penalty under Chinese law, including many non-violent crimes such as smuggling and corruption.

The government is a signatory to the United Nations' benchmark International Convention on Political and Civil Rights, which holds that capital punishment, if not abolished, should be limited to very serious offences. The treaty, however, has yet to be ratified by the NPC.

Li Daomin ruled out scrapping the death penalty altogether, citing the tough challenges faced in the fight against crime.

"Even in some countries with a mature rule of law such as the United States and Japan, capital punishment is still retained," Li said.

In practice, he said, great caution is exercised in the passing of death sentences, as the judicature adheres to a long-standing "kill fewer, kill carefully" line.

"Whenever it comes to imposing the death sentence or not, and both options are technically correct, I always choose not," he added.

(China Daily 03/14/2005 page2)

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