To promote meticulosity in meting out capital punishment, top judge Xiao Yang said Saturday that Chinese courts will start from this year to open court sessions when hearing death sentence trials in second instance, after taking steps to retrieve the power of death penalty review from provincial courts.
"As of July 1, 2006, all the second-instance trials of death sentence cases shall be heard in open court," Xiao, who is also president of the Supreme People's Court (SPC) said in his report on the work of the court.
This represents another step taken by the SPC to reform the court system concerning capital punishment, after it announced to retrieve the power of death penalty approval from provincial higher people's courts in October 2005.
SPC spokesman Sun Huapu said in an interview that China is among the more than half of the nations in the world that have insisted on death penalty, which has drawn criticism from others. "But China, for the moment, does not have the right conditions for abolishing capital punishment," he said.
He attributed the country's preservation of the system to its level of development as it is still in its initial stage of socialism and a developing country, where many people still believe in the principle that "a killer should pay the victim with his life."
But the country has exerted strict control over death penalty, ensuring that only a very small number of criminals committing heinous crimes should be executed, he said.
By now, the SPC has established three special criminal tribunals and transferred judges from local courts to the SPC, for reviewing cases involving death penalty, according to SPC sources.
"To try second-instance death penalty cases in the open court sessions is conducive to improving protection of human rights. It serves as a procedural guarantee for preventing misjudgment in death sentence cases," a SPC official told Xinhua.
He disclosed that in the past, many courts failed to hear death penalty cases in second instance in public as provided for by the law.
From the beginning of 2005, Chinese media exposed several misjudged death sentence cases, criticizing that courts lack a cautious attitude toward giving capital punishment.
In October 2005, the SPC issued its Second Five-Year (2006-2010) Reform Plan, which says that people's courts shall open court sessions for death sentence cases in second instance.
When trying cases of capital punishment in second instance, people's courts should carefully hear the reasons of appeal or protest and review the evidence in dispute, the SPC official said.
If necessary, important witnesses of plaintiff or the defendant should be asked to attend the court session, and the court should make all efforts to safeguard the rights of the accused and avoid wrong judgment in death sentence cases, he said.
In China, capital punishment falls into two categories -- a death penalty with the criminal to be executed immediately after the sentencing, and death with a two-year reprieve.