Pages

2.19.2010

Beijing - criminal trial reforms

One of the goals of criminal trial reforms outlined by the Third Five-Years Reform Plan of the People's Courts, is reducing courts' discretion in determining criminal sentences:


We shall regulate the discretionary power, incorporate sentencing into the court trial procedures, study and issue the Guiding Opinions on Sentencing Procedures of the People’s Courts. We shall improve the criminal procedures for the first and second instances, implement the relevant provisions on the roles of the procuratorial organs and lawyers in criminal trials, and strive to improve the quality and efficiency of trials.
After a first round of experiments began in 2008, in June the SPC issued substantive and procedural rules on sentencing, mandating their use by one intermediate and three basic people's courts in each province. This far sentencing guidelines however have been used only in certain cases, namely disruption of traffic, intentional wounding, crimes against property, and drug-related offences.

Reportedly, courts in Beijing have extended the application of guidelines to a greater number of criminal cases, involving crimes against public order, the person and of course some corruption crimes. This further step in court reform should ideally introduce slightly more adversarial trial procedures, as the defendant and his legal representative will have a chance to discuss the sentence publicly asked by the prosecutor.

One possible side-effect of this reform may be a reduction of appeal cases - if the defendant understands the principles behind the court's decision to sentence him to X years and he is persuaded that the very same principles will be applied also by the court of second instance, he might choose not to appeal against the sentence.