Can you imagine this happening in the U.S? I have toured China 5 times in the past 5 years to discuss wrongful convictions with scholars, judges, prosecutors, etc. They are hungry–at all levels, to fight this problem. I can say that China’s government is making more of a concentrated effort to correct wrongful convictions that I have seen from any other government.
BEIJING-China’s top judge used a high-profile speech in Beijing to apologize for a spate of wrongful-conviction cases, part of an effort to shore up eroded public confidence in the country’s court system.
Chinese courts revised more than 1,300 criminal decisions in 2014, including a number of major wrongful judgments, said Zhou Qiang, chief justice of China’s Supreme People’s Court, Thursday as he delivered the court’s annual work report to the national legislature.
“With regard to wrongful convictions, we feel a deep sense of self-blame and demand that courts at all levels draw a profound lesson,” he said.
Atoning for miscarriages of justice-particularly in death-penalty cases-has been the centrepiece of a government campaign to reform law-enforcement institutions and instil public confidence in a legal system often seen as favouring the powerful over ordinary Chinese.
The Supreme People’s Court recently ordered retrials in a handful of high-profile cases, including that of an 18-year-old from Inner Mongolia who was executed in 1996 for the rape and murder of a woman in a public bathroom. The youth was posthumously exonerated in December, nearly 10 years after another man confessed to the crime.
Revisiting mistaken judgments “never really happened in Chinese criminal justice,” said Fu Hualing, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. “It’s a matter of credibility, and it’s a good thing”.
President Xi Jinping last fall ushered in the legal reform drive, saying that a better-functioning legal system is necessary if the Communist Party is to effectively govern an increasingly complex and contentious society. Mr. Zhou, a champion of judicial professionalism, has gained a reputation as a reformer, with space to push for changes to make the courts more independent and better protect the rights of lawyers.
Mr. Xi, however, has put limits on those reforms, requiring that the legal system continue to serve the interests of the party.
Political considerations are one reason China’s legal system produces so many wrongful convictions and mean they are unlikely to go away soon, according to Joshua Rosenzweig,a Hong Kong-based human-rights researcher.
“A lot of these cases were pushed through because of the pressure everyone was under to solve the latest grisly murder,” Mr. Rosenzweig said. “The police, prosecutors and the courts are often coordinated by the party based on interests other than determining the truth.”
As Mr. Zhou was delivering his speech in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, a lawyer involved in another high-profile wrongful-conviction case cast doubt on the promises for change.
In a post on social media, Chen Guangwu, a lawyer for the family of Nie Shubin, a 21-year-old who was executed in 1995 for a rape and murder that another man later confessed to, said he hadn’t received access to the case file three months after the top court ordered a retrial.
“I think the local court is being interfered with,” Mr. Chen told The Wall Street Journal, saying he had asked multiple times to be given access to the documents. “This is how things work in China. They try to avoid sensitive incidents, sensitive times and sensitive places.”
Meng Bin, the judge with the Shandong High People’s Court who is overseeing the retrial, didn’t respond to calls for comment.
The Supreme People’s Court has repeatedly declined to comment on its handling of wrongful-conviction cases
The risk of political interference and rushed judgments is even greater in cases that touch on central government interests, legal scholars said. That is particularly a concern, Mr. Rosenzweig said, in cases involving terrorism or endangering national security.
Chinese courts issued judgments in 558 cases involving terrorist attacks or charges of inciting separatism in 2014, Mr. Zhou said in his report, a 14.8 per cent increase over the previous year.
Cracking down on terrorism and separatism has been a priority of Mr. Xi’s following a proliferation of violent attacks the government has attributed to religious extremists from Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority. Representatives from Xinjiang said at a meeting in Beijing on Tuesday that the country’s “strike-hard” campaign against terrorism has been carried out according to law.