New rules reduce conviction errors
National guideline expected to improve the handling of evidence and lead to fairer trials
Judicial experts welcomed a new national guideline on criminal procedure reform this week, hoping it will contribute to reducing wrongful convictions.
While judicial reforms have been ongoing in China, the milestone, 21-clause guide highlights the reforms in all courts through greater standardization in the process of handling cases.
The guideline puts greater emphasis on the role of trials and how evidence is handled. Police, prosecutors and judges have to pay more attention to the quality of fact-finding and identifying evidence, “which is a big change in dealing with a case and will effectively protect the rights of defendants and improve impartiality of judgments,” Renmin University of China law professor Li Fenfei said on Tuesday.
The guideline, issued by the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, along with the ministries of public security, state security and justice, has stirred lots of interest in the legal community since it was released on Monday.
“In the past, we focused more on the investigation, but now the guideline asks every judicial worker to consider court trials as the judicial core,” Li said. “In other words, how evidence is used has become crucial and will lead or guide judicial workers in handling a case.”
Shanghai criminal lawyer Ruan Chuansheng said, “The legality of evidence collection is a crucial point in making a fair decision and avoiding wrongful convictions.” Ruan said he was glad to see the document highlight the requirement for no punishment to be applied in doubtful cases.
Ruan, a legal worker for more than 10 years, said he also is happy to see the document say that “interrogations should be improved to prevent forced confessions, and authorities may not oblige suspects to incriminate themselves”.
It also for the first time advocates a system to review the legality of interrogations in big or influential cases.
“The requirements will guide the behavior of police officers in investigations and reduce mistakes and flaws in following procedures,” he said. “Justice is not only based on judges. It also relies on legal investigation and prosecution. When each legal body strictly regulates itself and reduces miscarriages, justice is not far away.”
Courts, prosecutors and police must cooperate in ensuring that innocent people are not wrongly convicted, he added.
Bian Jianlin, a lawprofessor at Chin a University of Political Science and Law, said reforms in criminal procedures came after a series of wrongful convictions in China, which harmed judicial credibility and triggered social outrage.
One high-profile wrongful judgment was the execution of teenager Hugjilitu in Inner Mongolia. He was found guilty of rape and murder in 1996 and put to death. But he was declared innocent in December 2014, years after he was wrongfully convicted.
“The change will also strengthen lawyers’ role in cases,” said Wang Wanqiong, a criminal lawyer whose client Chen Man was declared innocent this year after being wrongfully jailed for 23 years.
Wang also called for more specific rules on how to punish those who violate the guidelines. “We urgently need a rule with teeth. We must punish mistakes to let legal insiders realize how crucial it is to abide by criminal procedures and avoid torture in interrogations,” she added.
When each legal body strictly regulates itself ... justice is not far away.” Ruan Chuansheng, a criminal lawyer from Shanghai