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Rule of Law
Cover Stories Series 2012> Rule of Law
UPDATED: March 19, 2012 NO.12 MARCH 22, 2012
Major Amendment
Respecting and safeguarding human rights is added to the Criminal Procedure Law, indicating a significant step in China's rule of law
By Lan Xinzhen

COURT HEARING: Gao Xiaosong, a famous singer, is sentenced to six months in prison for dangerous driving in Beijing on May 17, 2011 (GONG LEI)

China's lawmakers are amending the nation's Criminal Procedure Law highlighted by the official inclusion of "respecting and safeguarding human rights" into its text.

The draft amendment to the law, also called the "mini-Constitution," took center stage at the Fifth Session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) held in Beijing on March 5-14. This was the first time for China to directly address the issue by including respecting and safeguarding human rights into a law other than the Constitution.

The NPC voted on and passed the amendment on March 14.

Wang Zhenhua, deputy to the 11th NPC and Vice President of the Higher People's Court of Liaoning Province, said the amendment will improve the country's criminal procedural system and serve to effectively uphold the law and respect individuals' rights. More importantly, it will promote judicial justice and regulate criminal procedures.

China's Criminal Procedure Law was promulgated in 1979 and was amended once in 1996, said Wang Zhaoguo, Vice Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee.

In the past five years, 81 motions to amend the Criminal Procedure Law have been put forward by 2,485 NPC deputies.

Wang Zhaoguo said over the past 16 years, as the Chinese economy and society developed rapidly, new situations have emerged in regard to criminal offenses. These have imposed severe challenges on China's social administration. As the country undergoes democratic reform and progresses in adopting rule of law while enhancing the public's awareness of the rule of law, people impose higher demands on maintaining judicial fairness and protecting human rights.

Respecting rights

Wang Zhaoguo said respecting and safeguarding human rights is an important principle fixed by the Constitution. Considering that the criminal justice system involves citizens' fundamental rights such as personal freedom, explicitly writing "respecting and safeguarding human rights" into the Criminal Procedure Law will help judicial organs observe and implement this constitutional principle in criminal proceedings.

The amendment clarifies that a criminal suspect has the right to confide in an attorney if he or she is being investigated. The current law says that lawyers are limited to providing legal aid—maintaining client-attorney confidentiality is not protected.

"The involvement of lawyers earlier in the investigation can urge legal authorities to abide by the law when working a case," Wang Zhenhua said.

The issue concerning confessions obtained through illegal interrogative means is also addressed. In the past, such a means was often used to close cases. But now, the amendment clearly states that confessions obtained illegally or through the use of force will be excluded from all legal proceedings. Any and all interrogations must now be audio or video recorded.

Shi Ying, a NPC deputy and lawyer of Liaoning Deheng Law Firm, said the police should be the first to read over and implement the new amendment. In some rural areas, he said, police even handcuff the suspects to trees for hours.

Notifying family members of suspects under investigation, should the suspects be detained, is also addressed in the amendment. The current law states that family members need not be notified if such action would hinder the investigation or the family cannot be reached. Now, families will be kept in the dark only if a relative is suspected of crimes that threaten national security or involve terrorism.

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