China mulls human rights, torture in criminal law reform

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    Beijing, (IANS) China is planning to introduce major changes in its criminal procedure law that seek to insert in writing the principle of “safeguarding human rights” and exclude confessions extorted through illegal means, according to a draft law tabled for deliberation Thursday.

    The amendment, for the first time, made clear that confessions extorted through illegal means, such as torture or threats, should be excluded during trial.

    Explaining the draft law to a plenary meeting of the legislative assembly, Wang Zhaoguo, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, said although the current law embodies the principle of human rights protection, it is necessary to write the article into the law.

    The draft document was submitted to the ongoing 5th session of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) for third reading Thursday.

    “Considering that the system of criminal justice involves citizens’ fundamental rights such as personal freedom, explicitly writing ‘respect and safeguard human rights’ into the criminal procedure law not only helps better reflect the socialist nature of the judicial system of our country, but also helps judicial organs observe and implement this constitutional principle in criminal proceedings,” Wang said.

    China’s current criminal procedure law was enacted in 1979 and amended in 1996, the China Daily reported.

    The latest revision was submitted to the NPC Standing Committee for first reading in August 2011 and for second reading in December 2011.

    Wang said it is necessary to revise the law to ensure punishment for crimes, protection of people, make innovations in social administration, maintain social harmony, resolve social conflicts and deepen judicial reform.

    Over the past 16 years since the last revision, China’s economy and society have developed rapidly and new situations have emerged in regard to criminal offences, he said.

    To prevent confession by torture, the draft stipulates that suspects shall be sent to a detention facility for custody after being detained or arrested and be interrogated there. The process of interrogation shall be audio or video-taped, the newspaper said.

    The draft amendment also specifies the procedures for the Supreme People’s Court to review death penalty cases so that such cases are handled “with sufficient care” and “legal oversight”.

    According to the draft, the court shall issue an order approving or disapproving a death sentence after reviewing it. If the court overrules the death sentence, it may remand the case for retrial or revise the judgement thereof.

    During the reviewing proceedings, the supreme court may question the defendant and the defence attorney’s opinions shall be heard if he so requests. All death sentences should be submitted to the supreme court for review, according to the draft law.

    The amendment defines the measure of house surveillance and stipulates the conditions for its application. For example, a seriously ill person, a pregnant woman or a breastfeeding mother, involved in criminal cases, can be put under house surveillance.

    The amendment provides that for a suspect involved in the crime of endangering national security house surveillance may be carried out at a designated place, upon approval by the public security organ at the next higher level.

    However, the venue can not be a detention house or a place used especially for handling criminal cases. The draft also strictly limits exceptions to the provisions of notifying family members of the suspect after a coercive measure is adopted, the daily said.