Draft Amendment That Would Return Power of Death Penalty Review to the SPC Completed

December 8, 2004

According to a November 29 report in the Beijing News, scholars commissioned by the Supreme People's Court to draft a proposal for the amendment of the PRC Organic Law of the People’s Courts have forwarded a final proposal to the SPC for review. Beijing University professor He Weifang and China University of Politics and Law professor Fan Chongyi, who lead the team, held interviews to discuss the draft amendments last week. The proposal reportedly calls for the elimination of article 13 of the current Organic Law, which authorizes the SPC to delegate its power to review death sentences to provincial high people’s courts. This provision, which has been the subject of considerable controversy, conflicts with article 48 of the PRC Criminal Law and article 199 of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law, which require the SPC to review all death sentences. He Weifang noted that the delegation of power over death penalty review to high people’s courts was "inappropriate" and said that the draft amendment was a "necessary measure" to strictly implement the spirit of the law, ensure the quality of case handling, and protect human rights. According to the 2004 SPC Work Report, in 2003 alone, the SPC changed the original sentence or ordered retrials in 118 of the 300 death penalty cases that it did review.

If the NPC amends the Organic Law as proposed, it would remove a legal obstacle to efforts to return the power of death penalty review in all cases to the SPC. After the SPC reviews the amendment proposal, analysts expect it to be sent to the NPC Standing Committee for approval. Reports have circulated for months suggesting that high-level Chinese government officials have already decided to implement the change.