Chinese Supreme Court Retracts Provincial Right on Death Penalty Approval

November 8, 2006 Updated: November 8, 2006

The Chinese Standing Committee of the National People's Congress passed an amendment during its 24th conference, turning the authority of death penalty jurisdiction back to the Chinese Supreme Court. CCP-controlled Xinhua News Agency reported that this is China's largest death penalty reform in 23 years.

This decision will change the Chinese Constitution's 13th amendment into “Excluding the jurisdiction of death penalty by the Supreme Court, decisions by any other court must be submitted for approval.” The decision will be administered starting January 1, 2007.

The Constitution of China had once forbid any court aside from the Supreme Court to make death penalty determinations. However, in September 1983, due to constant social crises, the legislature gave partial jurisdiction to the higher courts of provinces and autonomous regions. This revision allowed death penalty trials and approval to be done in the same court. The lack of surveillance resulted in a series of unjust, faked, and misjudged cases.

In addition, in 1996 and 1997 both the Laws of Criminal Procedure and Criminal Justice Laws were revised, and both stated that only the Supreme Court could hand down death penalties, which resulted in the three laws contradicting each other.

Supreme Court department head Xiao Yang expressed that reexamination and trials of execution should be held at two separate courts and the procedure divided into two parts to prevent any misjudgments. The accused should also be able to speak on his or her own behalf more than once during the trial.

As for the question of whether or not China should abolish the death penalty, the report stated that Xiao Yang said repeatedly that China's current policy still requires the death penalty, but it will be used with more caution.

The international society has many times criticized China's human rights record and its casual use of the death penalty in particular. Amnesty International said that since 2004 China has carried out 3,400 executions, exceeding all other nations' combined and there were evidently many misjudgments, and faked and wronged cases. The Chinese Communist Party has never publicly reported the statistics of their death penalty cases each year. Amnesty International once said that China is a big headache when it comes to reporting the number of executions carried out per year. One could only estimate the amount of executions conducted in China through the media and other fragmented reports.