Southern Weekend Calls on Chinese Government to Return Power of Death Penalty Review to the Supreme People's Court, Halt the Implementation of Death Sentences Not Approved at the SPC Level

October 20, 2004

Drawing on arguments made by scholars and officials gathered in Guangzhou for the annual meeting of the Chinese Law Society, the PRC weekly Southern Weekend has called on the Chinese government to return the power of death penalty review in all cases to the Supreme People’s Court. Although the PRC Criminal Procedure Law and Criminal Law state that the SPC shall review all death sentences, in the 1980s, the SPC delegated this power to provincial high people’s courts for cases involving murder, rape, and several other crimes. In doing so, the SPC relied on a provision in the Organic Law of the People’s Courts that authorizes such a delegation of power. At the Guangzhou conference, however, SPC Vice President Huang Songyou reportedly stated that the criminal law provisions should control because they are enshrined in “basic laws” passed by the full National People’s Congress, as opposed to the Organic Law, which is a “general law” passed by the NPC Standing Committee.

While noting the strain that such a move would place on SPC capacity given the large number of death sentences in China, Southern Weekend nonetheless argued that simply waiting for judicial capacity to improve was not a viable option. It called for new thinking on the issue and concluded that as the procedural change is being implemented, the SPC should invalidate any death penalty approvals issued by provincial courts and hold the relevant convicts in prison until such time as the SPC has the capacity to review the cases. The paper noted that the change would help bring China into compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and help China in its international "human rights struggle."

Additional information on the death penalty in China is available in the 2004 CECC Annual Report, Section III(a).