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Amended Law to Drive down Number of Executions
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The number of executions carried out in China is sure to see a gradual drop as a result of recent legislative changes, according to an expert.

An amendment, which was ratified by China's top legislature on Tuesday and takes effect on January 1, 2007, requires that all death penalties are to be approved by the Supreme People's Court (SPC).

Professor Chen Guangzhong, of the China University of Political Science and Law, said that lower courts would therefore be more cautious when meting out capital sentences knowing that these might be overturned by the SPC.

"China will definitely see a reduction in the use of the death penalty, " Chen said.

"The drop in the number of executions, however, will be gradual because the general public, who traditionally believe in 'a life for a life', needs time to get used to the change."

But Chen added that the new amendment would make the sentencing procedure more just.

"In the process of building a harmonious society, the less the death penalty is used, the better," Chen said.

The amendment is, in effect, a reform that will enable China to implement its policy of "a more prudent and less used death penalty."

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

The system did help to reduce crime rates, according to Ministry of Public Security figures in September 1984 that showed the number of criminal cases from January to August that year dropped 31 percent from the previous year.

However, the practice of provincial courts handling both death sentence appeals and final reviews has been criticized in recent years for perpetrating miscarriages of justice.

The Chinese media has exposed a series of errors in death sentence cases and criticized the courts for their not exercising caution when meting out capital punishment sentences.

(Xinhua News Agency November 3, 2006)

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