Beijing - In a major effort to prevent torture and forced confessions, local prosecuting authorities have published the first regulation to guarantee suspects the right to have their attorneys present during interrogations.
In line with the regulation introduced on a trial basis by the Beijing People's Procuratorate's Second Branch, the first of its kind in the capital city, the procedure will be applied only to suspects on bail.
According to the regulation, only those licensed attorneys who have been hired by suspects will be allowed to attend interrogations. The rules are likely to be gradually broadened to apply to interrogations of minor and foreign suspects.
"It is aimed at avoiding torture during interrogations and reducing wrongful cases," Wu Chunmei, a procurator from the procuratorate branch, told the Beijing Times on Monday.
As China's law has no clear reference to an attorney's right to be present at interrogations, few attorneys or suspects ask for that right.
"The law doesn't ban our presence at interrogations. But since nobody ever initiated it and asked for it, you just follow what others do, and don't ask to be present," said Zhang Yueming, a Beijing-based criminal lawyer.
The new regulation says the procuratorate should tell suspects about such a right before interrogations and the procuratorate, the suspect, and the attorney all have the right to ask for the attorney to be present.
"It's a good way to balance the interrogations and bring lawyers' rights into full play," said Zhang. "The attorney's participation, to some extent, can help avoid torture, reduce wrong cases and also respect the suspect's legitimate rights.
"However, to put it into action requires effort from everyone involved. The attorney may have to do more investigation, while the interrogators should enforce the law strictly," Zhang said.
Legal experts hailed the new regulation as progress, which should be improved and extended in the future.
"If fully enforced, it will apply pressure to interrogators and help to improve the transparency and efficiency of interrogations," said Fan Chongyi, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law.
"But this regulation is only the first step. To allow attorneys to be present, we should also define clearer standards for attorneys' behavior and responsibilities," Fan added.
The use of torture during interrogations has triggered wide criticism in the country about poor judicial practice, especially after the cases of Zhao Zuohai and She Xianglin were exposed.
Zhao, a villager from Henan province, was behind bars for 11 years until the man he allegedly murdered turned up alive on April 30. Zhao later said he was tortured by local police to force him to confess to the crime.
She Xianglin, a former security guard from Central China's Hubei province, was convicted of killing his wife, and was wrongfully jailed for 11 years until his wife was found alive and well in her hometown in 2005.
Police used torture and sleep deprivation over 10 days to force him to confess, said She
Cao Yin contributed to this story.
(China Daily 12/07/2010 page4)