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Top court clears way on probation pleas

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

09:01, February 23, 2012

New interpretation expected to help establish more open system

BEIJING - Judicial reviews of prison sentence and criminal probation appeals are to be made more open.

The Supreme People's Court issued its latest judicial interpretation on Wednesday, in which it calls for greater transparency in the review process.

The interpretation specifies that courts have to hold public hearings on probation and sentence reduction pleas under six sets of circumstances. These would include when a case has received wide public attention, when a criminal has behaved meritoriously, or when prosecutors hold different opinions on the probation term.

The interpretation, scheduled to come into force in July, is a modification of a current ruling issued in 1997 that does not require courts to hold open hearings when reviewing such pleas.

The director of the Supreme People's Court's trial supervision tribunal said that at present judges decide on these appeals by reviewing case files, and this was causing a delay in proceedings.

While admitting that insight into judicial reviews on probation is limited, the director said he believes the new policy will help establish an open judicial procedure.

The director said it was still unrealistic for the judiciary in China to hear all the applications for probation and sentence abatement due to a lack of "human resources", especially at the local level. The six situations that require public hearings, noted in the interpretation, are believed to be the "most controversial ones".

The top court's latest move is intended to support incentives to help criminal reform introduced in the Eighth Amendment to the Criminal Law in May last year.

The amendment included measures such as tightening probation opportunities for repeat offenders of violent crimes. It also extended the maximum jail term for a prisoner under sentence of death to 20 years in prison from 18, if the prisoner has made "rendered meritorious service".

Tang Hongxin, a criminal lawyer, said the recent modifications by the Supreme People's Court answer questions such as under what conditions can a jail term be reduced, as the stipulation in the Eighth Amendment is relatively vague.

He also said the changes meet the policy of "tempering justice with mercy", which means balancing severe punishment with a reduction in prison sentence.

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