A judicial interpretation went effective yesterday, making open court sessions obligatory when hearing death sentence trials in the second instance.
The move is considered a major step towards ensuring cautious use of the death penalty and guaranteeing human rights.
It is expected to ensure more strict review of the first death sentence verdict.
Suspects and their lawyers will have more opportunities to defend through court debate.
Ahead of July, most high people's courts at province, municipality and autonomous region level merely reviewed the legal documents when they received protests from the defendant or the public prosecutor.
No hearing was held in the second-instance trial in the past, leading to reports of undeserved death sentences.
All death sentence appeals and protests began to be heard in open session in the latter half of the year.
According to the judicial interpretation issued by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate on details of the open hearing, initial verdicts of death sentence cases with two-year reprieve will be reheard, as well the second instance if defendants have new effective evidence or the public prosecutor lodges a protest.
Meanwhile, court presidents or tribunal chief judges will preside over extremely complicated and difficult cases.
According to Chinese laws, municipal-level intermediate people's courts have the right to impose the death sentence after an initial trial.
If the accused appeals or the public prosecutor lodges a protest against the initial sentence, higher provincial-level courts hear the case.
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 executions. But no timetable has been given.
The nation's top court currently reviews and makes final decisions on some types of death penalty cases, including economic crimes, but gives the power of sentencing for violent offences, such as murder and arson, to provincial-level high people's courts.
(China Daily September 26, 2006)