China Reforms Death Penalty Trials in 2006: Top Judge

To promote meticulosity in meting out capital punishment, top judge Xiao Yang said Saturday that Chinese courts will start from this year to open court session when hearing death sentence trials in second instance, after taking steps to retrieve the power of death penalty review from provincial courts.

"As of July 1, 2006, all the second-instance trials of death sentence cases shall be heard in open court,"" Xiao, who is also the president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) said in his report on the work of the Supreme People's Court.

This represents another step taken by the SPC to reform court system concerning the capital punishment, after it announced to retrieve the power of death penalty approval from provincial higher people's court in October 2005.

By now, the SPC has established three special criminal tribunals and transferred judges from local courts to the SPC, for reviewing the death penalty cases, according to SPC sources.

"To try second-instance death penalty cases in the open court session is conducive to improving protection of human rights. It serves as a procedural guarantee for preventing misjudge in death sentence cases," said an official of the Supreme People's Court in an Xinhua interview.

He disclosed that in the past, many courts failed to hear death penalty cases in second instance in public as provided for by the law.

From the beginning of 2005, Chinese media exposed several misjudged death sentence cases, criticizing that courts lack a cautious attitude toward the trial of death penalty.

In October 2005, the Supreme People's Court issued its Second Five-Year (2006-2010) Reform Plan, which says that people's courts shall open court session for death sentence cases in second instance.

When trying capital penalty cases in second instance, people's courts should carefully hear the reasons of appeal or protest and review the evidences in dispute, the SPC official said.

If necessary, important witnesses of plaintiff or the accused should be asked to attend the court session, and courts should make all efforts to safeguard the rights of the accused and avoid wrong judgement in death sentence cases, he said.

(Xinhua News Agency March 11, 2006)

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