Chinese experts and officials in criminal justice said at a human rights symposium that China should revise its approach to death penalty by rescinding the right of provincial courts to have the final say on executions.
"When it comes to life or death, we have to be very cautious," said Wang Mingdi, vice president of the China Penology Society, adding that the move will help reduce death roll numbers and prevent miscarriages of justice.
The Supreme People's Court (SPC) said it is studying how to revoke the approval right of executions from lower courts, after top officials of the SPC repeatedly said this year that the reform should be carried out when it is suitable.
China's current laws dictate that all death penalty ruling, given by local intermediate people's courts or above, should be submitted to the SPC for approval, but in cases involving violent crimes like murder, rape, and robbery, provincial higher courts are entitled to approve executions.
Wang said the Organic Law of the People's Court of China, a law that allows lower courts to have the execution approval right, was promulgated in 1983 when intensified efforts were made to crack down on rampant crimes. "But now, the situation is very different from what it was 20 years ago," he said.
Sources close to the SPC told Xinhua that large proportions of death penalty cases are approved by provincial courts and only those very important cases are submitted to the supreme court.
"Due to varied court standards, people who commit similar crimes are put to death in some provinces but kept alive in others," said Liu Zuoxiang, law professor of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
He said when the approval right is reserved to the supreme court there will be only one set of standard and people will feel safer of the death penalty system.
"Life is so precious for everyone that it can't be taken away just as provincial courts rule so," said Yang Qingxiang who was president of the Jilin Provincial Higher People's Court from 1992 to 2000.
He said if the supreme court has the last say on executions, miscarriages of justice can be largely prevented.
Lu Jianping, law professor of the People's University of China said Chinese academics have been long advising to revise execution approaches and the campaign is joined by the public in recent years when human rights concepts are starting to take roots in China.
In March, the China Youth Daily said Xiao Yang, president of the SPC, revealed that China is deliberating on whether to rescind the execution approval right from lower courts.
In October, Huang Songyou, vice president of the SPC echoed with Xiao, saying the move will better protect the human rights of death roll inmates.
However, sources with the SPC said laws should be revised and submitted to the legislature for review before any possible changes are made.
(Xinhua News Agency December 26, 2004)