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China's Supreme Court Expands Death Penalty Review Team
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China's highest court is expanding its death penalty review team following a modification of Chinese statutes requiring it to approve all executions from next year.

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) has added three criminal tribunals to the previous two and expanded the death penalty review team from 50 to 100 judges.

Many of the judges were recruited from local courts and have finished their three-month training at the highest court. They will be on probation for a year before officially assuming office.

The number of judges exercising death penalty review rights is expected to rise as the SPC is working on a plan to recruit experienced lawyers and law school teachers as senior judges.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, or top legislature, adopted an amendment to the organic law on the people's court, ending the practice of allowing executions on the order of lower-level courts.

The legal change will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2007.

Until 1983, the SPC was responsible for reviewing all death penalty cases. Then, as part of a major crackdown on crime, provincial courts were given authority to issue final verdicts on death sentences for crimes that seriously endangered public security and social order, such as homicide, rape, robbery and the criminal use of explosives.

But the practice of provincial courts handling both death sentence appeals and conducting final reviews has drawn sharp criticism in recent years in the wake of some highly-publicized miscarriages of justice.

Since 2005, China's media have exposed a series of errors in death sentence cases and criticized courts for their lack of caution in meting out capital punishment.

To prepare for the changes, the SPC decided to set up three new criminal tribunals to review death sentences handed out by provincial courts.

In China, capital punishment falls into two categories -- a death penalty in which the criminal is executed immediately after sentencing, and death with a two-year reprieve.

(Xinhua News Agency November 2, 2006)

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