Southern Weekend Commentator Argues That Returning the Power of Death Penalty Review to the Supreme People's Court Not Enough

October 29, 2004

In a commentary published in Southern Weekend, Chinese law professor Zhou Baofeng argues that problems inherent in the application of the death penalty in China will not be resolved simply by returning the power of death penalty review to the Supreme People’s Court. Zhou observes that legal scholars, judicial officials, and the society at large now assume that the power of death penalty review in all cases will be returned to the Supreme People’s Court. He notes that this should not be controversial, since both China’s dynastic legal traditions and modern international standards demand that the death penalty be applied only by a country’s highest judicial organ. But he argues that more must be done than just returning this power to the SPC in order for death penalty to be applied justly. Zhou writes that the review process itself, which he characterizes as more administrative than judicial, contains several basic flaws: (1) the reviewing court is not required to provide reasoning for its decision; (2) the review process can only be initiated by the court, not the parties and (3) judges who review death sentences typically only review written case files and do not hold hearings. He concludes that for the basic requirements of procedural justice to be met, courts with the power of final review over death sentences must be neutral and must hold an open hearing at which the parties are able to argue their cases.

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