New limits on death penalty use won't undermine public safety, say judges, experts

08:56, February 11, 2010      

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A Chinese court official said the country's new guidelines to limit use of the death penalty will not undermine public safety, reassuring citizens concerned about public safety and social stability.

"The limited use of the death penalty won't result in a less vigorous crackdowns on crimes or negatively affect social stability. It's reasonable to administer justice tempered with mercy when it comes to the death penalty," Gao Guijun, a judge with the Supreme People's Court (SPC), told Xinhua Wednesday.

Parts of the new guidelines raised public concern, especially the article that recognizes financial compensation as a factor possibly reducing sentences. Some citizens interpreted the article as meaning "money can buy a life."

"This rule is mainly for criminal cases which had their genesis in civil conflicts. As for those who severely harm national security or social order, or those who violate people indiscriminately with serious malicious intent, compensation won't bring any mercy," Gao said.

China's Supreme People's Court announced Tuesday guidelines for courts handling criminal cases. The guidelines require the courts to apply the policy of "justice tempered with mercy," which stresses that death penalty use should be limited.

The guidelines say the death penalty should be "resolutely" handed down to those who have committed "extremely serious" crimes, but that the punishment should be reserved for the tiny minority of criminals against which there is valid and ample evidence.

"Reprieves and commutation were widely used in the past sentencing of ex-officials who took advantage of their public position. This should be changed," said Qu Xinjiu, head of the law school at Beijing-based China University of Political Science and Law.

According to the guidelines, commutation and paroles for such officials, especially those at county-level or above, are required to be heard at court.

Sun Jungong, spokesman with the SPC, said the guidelines emphasized the relationship between law enforcement and the policy of "justice tempered with mercy."

The guidelines are an interpretation of the "justice tempered with mercy" policy and details on the judicial principles to be used when handling criminal cases, Sun said.

The "justice tempered with mercy" policy was first enacted in a document approved in 2006 by the Sixth Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

The policy required courts to issue both severe and lenient sentences, depending on the seriousness of each crime.

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