Talk back: Putting a price on human life

By Chen Hong (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-06-01 06:52

SHENZHEN: The Intermediate People's Court of Dongguan in Guangdong Province sparked an intense nationwide debate recently, when it allowed a man to effectively buy himself a lighter sentence.

The judge revised its initial death penalty verdict to one of stay of execution, after the defendant, a man surnamed Wang, said he was willing to pay the victim's family 50,000 yuan ($6,500) in compensation.

Wang and two accomplices killed a man during a robbery in November 2005. The victim was the family's sole breadwinner, supporting his 80-year-old mother and young daughter. With the family facing a bleak financial future, the court sought mediation.

After several rounds of negotiations a civil compensation package was agreed. The plaintiff was satisfied with the result and the accused confessed his crime and expressed his intent to change his ways

The court said the positive attitude of the accused plus his payment of compensation had won him at least partial forgiveness from the victim's family. It was on this basis that the judge downgraded the sentence, in accordance with Chinese law.

"Normally in criminal cases, especially in those where people are killed, family members don't get a penny of compensation. It's a fact. In a more humane way, our court tried to help solve the financial problems of victims' family and dissolve the enmity between the offenders and the victims.

"We have strict principles in handling these cases. First, the accused must admit guilt and offer economic compensation. Second, the judge must solicit the opinions of the victims or their family members. Only if they agree to accept the compensation and forgive the accused to some extent can the mediation continue. Third, it depends on the severity of the criminal behaviour of the accused.

Liang Cong, president of the First Criminal Court of Dongguan Intermediate People's Court.

"The court's practices conform to the latest call from the Supreme People's Court to 'hand out fewer death penalties and do so prudently'.

"The criminal admitted his guilt in the form of compensation; the law could show some tolerance in return. The criminal tried to make up for the family's loss with compensation, which could alleviate the social instability or conflict.

"If a criminal is repentant and their behaviour does not merit execution, why is it necessary to takie a life?"

Jiang Qinghan, a lawyer with the Shanghai Guangmao Law Firm

"The fate of criminals seems now to be determined by the depth of their pockets.

"The seriousness of law has been destroyed, which further misleads the public's understanding of justice."

Le Lan, a teacher with the Southwest University for Nationalities

"This is an insult to the law. Can money now buy a life? What can't it buy?

"Anyone facing the death penalty would cry for forgiveness and would be willing to pay compensation to save their own life. So how can we ever know that what the criminal says is true?

Xu Shu, an employee with Shenzhen Huayi Plant Co

(China Daily 06/01/2007 page5)

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