China's highest court is expanding its death penalty review team following a modification of 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'll 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 top legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, 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. This legal change will come into effect on January 1, 2007.
Until 1983 the SPC was responsible for reviewing all death penalty cases. Then, as part of a major crime crackdown, provincial courts were given authority to issue final verdicts on death sentences. These related to crimes seriously endangering 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 using capital punishment.
To prepare for the changes the SPC decided to set up three new criminal tribunals to review death sentences handed down 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)