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Tapes Approved As Evidence

Local attorneys and court officials Tuesday hailed the Supreme People's Court's reversal that will allow tape recordings to be used as evidence in most circumstances, even when one party doesn't know that he or she has been taped.

Anyone who is surreptitiously taped confessing to murdering his or her spouse could thus be tried on the basis of the recorded evidence, and messages left on telephone-answering machines could also be used in court.

However, the high court ruled that tapes are inadmissible if they undermine the public interest, such as national security, or if they are the result of an invasion of privacy, such as planting a listening device in a bedroom.

"A recording can help clarify what actually was said during a conversation," said Gong Zhenghua, an attorney with the Shanghai Chengda Law Firm.

Li Hongguang, spokesman for Jing'an District People's Court, cautioned that the high court's ruling doesn't mean that tapes will be regarded as wholly conclusive by themselves. "Parties still need to offer other evidence to substantiate their arguments," Li said. "Judges will be very prudent when assessing taped evidence."

Tape recordings will be admissible beginning on April 1.

The high court's opinion, issued last week, is a turnabout from its decree in 1995, in which it said that tape recordings made without the other party's permission were illegal and inadmissible as evidence.

The court's reversal comes at a time when many lawyers have pushed for the admissibility of tape recordings as evidence and even a number of lower court judges have concluded that the tapes would help the administration of justice, legal observers said.

In the past, arguably the most "effective" evidence was always rejected by the courts, said Gong, the attorney. "Sometimes, the strongest evidence is the weakest. But we still fought for its admissibility to leave an impression on the judges," Gong said.

Cui Wenhai, a spokesman for Huangpu District People's Court, added, "The new judicial explanation makes it easier for the court to find the truth and helps both parties present more solid evidence."

Gong said now lawyers have to guard against people who may try to obtain tape recordings by using questionable methods.

(eastday.com January 9, 2002)

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