China's top legislature has put the revision of the Criminal Procedural Law into its five-year legislation plan to prevent and control the widespread use of torture to extort confessions.
An official with the Commission of Legislative Affairs under the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), who asked to remain anonymous, said the current Criminal Procedural Law, which was enacted in July 1979 and revised in 1996, is ineffective.
He disclosed that legal experts were making a field study on the revision of the law, but have not started to draft its amendment. The amendment draft of the Criminal Procedural Law will be submitted to the top legislature for deliberation in 2006 and is expected to be voted on for adoption in 2007.
The current Criminal Procedural law has 226 items. However the number of judicial interpretations and regulations making up the law, formulated by the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security, exceeds 1,400.
The numerous judicial interpretations and regulations restrain each other, undermining the authority of the Criminal Procedural Law, said Chen Weidong, professor of the People's University.
Chinese law experts believe that the Chinese legislature has made a final decision to revise the Criminal Procedural Law, primarily based on a report on the implementation of the Criminal Procedural Law conducted by the Standing Committee of the NPC in 2000.
Hou Zongbin, director of the Committee of the Internal and Judicial Affairs of the NPC said in his report that the most severe problem he found in his study of the implementation of the law in six provinces is the use of torture to extract confessions.
He said Chinese courts have often reached verdicts heavily influenced by the testimony of the accused. Policemen were therefore prone to extort confessions through torture in order to improve their rate of criminal case solutions.
Professor Chen Guangzhong, former president of the China University of Political Science and Law said forced confessions have become the biggest injustice in China's judicial system. The Criminal Procedural Law should be revised to establish the principle of presumption of innocence and to allow lawyers to be present during interrogations.
"If policemen conduct interrogations under the supervision of lawyers, they not dare torture suspects," said Xie Youping, a professor at Fudan University.
Currently, police are hesitant to have lawyers present at interrogations, worrying that they may disclose important evidence to others or teach suspects how to deceive policemen.
Various police bureaus have been selected to be trial locales for lawyers to be present during interrogations. The experience drawn from the trials will be important references for the revision of the Criminal Procedural Law.