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China clarifies lawyers' role
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China's Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice have jointly issued regulations on the protection of defense lawyers' roles in capital cases to ensure that defendants' legal rights were upheld.

"This is another important regulatory document since the Supreme People's Court took back the power of death penalty reviews," an official with the Supreme Court said.

The regulations build upon existing documents on defense lawyers' work in capital cases. They also standardize the lawyers' duties, the official said. Some provisions of the regulations include:

-- Legal aid institutions must designate lawyers with criminal defense experience in capital cases.

-- Lawyers shall not transfer such cases to assistants and must meet the defendant before trial.

-- Judges must "earnestly listen" to lawyers' suggestions, ensure that lawyers are able to complete their presentations, and explain why defense lawyers' motions are honored or denied.

-- Court must inform "interested parties," lawyers and prosecutors of any date change for court hearings three days ahead of time.

-- Court must notify lawyers if prosecutors submit new evidence or re-evaluate the case before the second court session.

The regulations also improve the death penalty review procedures. For example, they stipulate that if a defense lawyer submits any motions or evidential documents during such a review, the relevant court must formally receive and record them.

On Jan. 1, 2007, the Supreme Court took back the power of death penalty review. The right to issue death sentences was given to provincial courts in 1983 to deal with a sudden surge in crime.

Since the application of the ultimate penalty returned to the hands of the central authorities, many people are hoping it will be used more sparingly, implemented more cautiously, and handed down more evenly.

Under the new practice, all death sentences pronounced by local courts must be reviewed and upheld by the Supreme Court. Each death sentence must be reviewed by three judges, who are required to check the facts, laws and criminal procedures and precedents.

(Xinhua News Agency May 23, 2008)

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