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Top Court to Review Death Sentences

The Supreme People's Court is moving forward with plans to reclaim the power to review death sentences from lower courts in order to avoid wrongful executions, a senior justice official with the country's top court said yesterday.

"The Supreme People's Court will add three criminal trial courts to cope with taking back the death penalty review power," the China Youth Daily quoted Supreme Court Vice-President Wan Exiang as saying, in a speech at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

He said the move is vital to maintain the neutrality of judicial power.

"The first step is to reclaim the death penalty review power and ensure the reviewing procedure is truly neutral from administrative departments and prevent the intervention of other powers."

Wan's remarks yesterday were the Supreme Court's latest answer addressing the rising public sentiment in favour of bringing back the death penalty review.

But he ruled out the possibility of scrapping capital punishment.

"The question is almost beyond discussion in China because the millennium-old notion of murderers paying with their own lives is deeply ingrained in people's minds," Wan was quoted as saying.

China's criminal procedure requires that the Supreme Court review every death sentence passed in the country to help avoid wrongful executions.

But amidst a rise in violent crimes, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, revised some laws in the early 1980s to allow the Supreme Court to transfer the review of death sentences for some violent offences, such as homicide and arson, to higher provincial courts.

Some wrongful convictions uncovered in recent years also pointed to a need to improving the court's track record. She Xianglin, a man in Hubei Province, was freed after 11 years in jail when he was wrongfully convicted for killing his wife who had turned up alive in March.

(China Daily September 28, 2005)

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