The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued a decision on October 26, 2018 to amend the Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China (the “Law”) for improving the linkage between supervision and criminal proceedings, establishing a system of trials in absentia, and promoting to law some of the results from the pilot program for guilty pleas in exchange of reduced sentences and expedited proceedings.
The Law now adds language allowing for more lenient punishment to suspects and defendants who voluntarily confess their crimes, admit the criminal facts as charged, or are willing to accept punishment. It further stipulates that suspects and defendants shall be informed of their right to see a duty lawyer, and provides a convenience for criminal suspects or defendants to meet with a duty lawyer. Meanwhile, pursuant to the amendments, if any justice personnel commits a crime of false imprisonment, obtaining a confession by torture, or illegal search or any other crime that infringes upon a citizen’s rights or undermines judicial justice, the people’s procuratorate may open an official investigation into the crime. This enhances the protection of the rights and interests of the suspects and defendants.
The amended Law clarifies the linkage between supervision and criminal proceedings, adjusts the investigative powers of the people’s procuratorate, and sets out connecting provisions on the procedural mechanisms for the transfer of a case by a supervisory authority whose investigation has concluded to the people’s procuratorate for review and prosecution. It is necessary to accurately grasp the contents of amendments to the law, hear relevant cases in accordance with law, and review and determine evidence collected by the supervisory authority, such as physical evidence, documentary evidence, witness testimonies, statements and contentions from investigated persons, audiovisual materials and electronic data.
The amended Law requires judicial agencies to prudently handle criminal trials in absentia. They are to accurately grasp the scope of applicability for criminal trials in absentia, properly handle such criminal cases, and serve the summons and a copy of the indictment issued by the people’s procuratorate to the defendant pursuant to the relevant international treaties, judicial assistance through diplomatic channels, or other manners permitted by the laws of the jurisdiction place where the defendant is located in order to ensure that the defendant’s right to informed of charges against him. When conducting trials in absentia, a people’s court shall pay attention to protecting the defendant’s rights in litigation, such as the right to present a defense, and the right to appeal of the defendant and of his/her close relatives. The amended Law provides for circumstances to apply trials in absentia, and the Supreme People’s Court requires that the first trial in absentia in the jurisdiction of each court to be reported to the Supreme People’s Court in a timely and level-by-level manner.
The amended Law also stipulates the proactive application of expedited trials and reduced sentences for guilty pleas. Courts are to understand the conditions under which expedited trials and reduced sentences for guilty pleas apply, maintain a speedy process that does not compromise on standards, maintain simplicity not at the expense of rights, improve the evidentiary system, and promote a sound procedure to communicate litigation rights in order to promote both fairness and efficiency.