Death penalty appeals will be heard in open court from tomorrow, top justice Xiao Yang told a national seminar on Thursday.
"The whole court procedure when hearing death sentence trials in the second instance should be video and sound recorded," he told presidents from the high people's courts of China's 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.
The move is designed to "ensure justice and avoid deficient verdicts."
Currently, municipal-level intermediate people's courts have the right to impose the death sentence after an initial trial; appeals are heard by provincial-level high people's courts.
"Appeals are key in ensuring a just verdict," said Xiao, president of the Supreme People's Court.
He forbade all high people's courts from seeking the opinion of the Supreme People's Court when hearing death penalty appeals, except for requests related to the application of the law.
"All high people's courts must make their judgments independently," said Xiao.
In east China's Jiangsu Province, the provincial people's court has trained 15 experienced judges to hold public hearings on death penalty appeals.
According to Xue Jianxiang, chief judge of the First Criminal Court of the High People's Court, feedback will be given to a court after an initial trial if its decision is regarded as inappropriate.
To hear death penalty appeals in open session is only one step in making judges more cautious about delivering the death penalty, as well as ensuring their decisions are just and well grounded.
The Supreme People's Court has decided to withdraw its power to re-examine all death penalty verdicts and give the final nod to execution. But no timetable has yet been given for it to rescind its rights.
The nation's top court currently reviews and makes final decisions on certain capital cases, including economic crimes, but gives sentencing power for violent offences, such as murder and arson, to provincial-level high people's courts.
Three new criminal tribunals under the Supreme People's Court in April began to review death sentences handed down by provincial-level high people's courts.
They do not yet formally have the right to make final decisions on death sentences.
In another development, the country's procuratorial departments investigated 9,633 officials above county level who were involved in crimes over the past three years, according to the 12th national procuratorial work conference, held yesterday in Beijng.
Another 4,024 cases involving corruption and embezzlement topping 1 million yuan (US$120,000) were resolved.
(Xinhua News Agency June 30, 2006)