New steps protect trial fairness

Updated: 2014-03-11 02:22

By CAO YIN (China Daily)

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NPC deputies praise efforts to prevent wrongful convictions, boost credibility

NPC deputies gave credit to moves by China's top court and procuratorate to prevent wrongful judgments last year, encouraging them to continue improving judicial credibility.

Chinese courts acquitted 825 defendants for lack of evidence and reasonable doubt in 2013, according to a work report by the Supreme People's Court issued on Monday.

Each court across the country should establish a work system to avoid and correct wrongful judgments, and protect human rights and implement presumption of innocence, said Zhou Qiang, president of the top court.

All courts are required to increase communication with lawyer associations, respect attorneys and attach importance to their ideas, and strengthen reviews to eliminate illegal evidence, Zhou said.

Twelve wrongful judgment scandals emerged over the past year, which also led to increased calls from the public for judicial fairness.

In one high-profile case, Zhang Hui and his uncle, Zhang Gaoping, both residents of Anhui province, were sentenced to death and life imprisonment in 2004 for allegedly raping and murdering a 17-year-old girl.

The sentences were later commuted to a death sentence with a two-year probation for Zhang Hui and a 15-year prison term for Zhang Gaoping during the second trial.

The two were finally acquitted in March 2013 after a retrial, in which the court determined the evidence did not support their convictions.

As courts have made efforts to correct wrongful judgments, Chinese prosecuting authorities also vowed to prevent unjust and erroneous judicial decisions.

Cao Jianming, procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, said prosecutors have improved an accountability system to discover, rectify and prevent wrongful cases, aiming to ensure people are innocent until proven guilty.

Prosecutors dropped charges against 100,157 people and gave up prosecution of 16,427 people in 2013 on grounds of insufficient evidence and failing to constitute crimes, up 9.4 percent and 96.5 percent year-on-year, according to the top procuratorate's work report published on Monday.

Meanwhile, prosecuting authorities also made 72,370 suggestions to correct illegitimate practices, such as abuse of compulsory measures, collecting evidences in illegal ways and using torture to force confessions, Cao said.

Chen Wenhua, an NPC deputy, spoke highly of the two reports, saying the idea of "innocent until proven guilty" is critically important.

Preventing wrongful cases is the bottom line of maintaining justice, "so our judicial bodies must pay more attention to avoid torture and illegal evidence", Chen said.

"I'd like to see that our court and procuratorate concluded their work with many figures, which also clearly proved their efforts to push forward judicial reform," he added.

Zhu Lieyu, an NPC deputy from Guangdong province, said he was glad to see evidence obtained through improper interrogation methods had not been allowed in trials.

"Wrongful judgments can be avoided if our judicial workers deal with cases using reasonable legal procedures," said Zhu, who is also a lawyer and keeps a close eye on China's judicial reform.

"But sometimes we cannot blindly blame courts for wrongful cases, because it's not their only duty," said Deng Hui, an NPC deputy who is also a judicial expert from Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics.

"First, we should make clear which step caused the mistake and then find out why the error happened," he said. "The prevention of wrongful judgments is also the responsibility of police, because they investigate before prosecution and the trial."

"Police, prosecutors and judges all handle a case. Only when none of them makes a mistake can wrongful judgments be avoided," he added.

Luo Wangshu contributed to this story.