Opening to Reform? An Analysis of China's Revised Criminal Procedure Law

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Opening to Reform? An Analysis of China's Revised Criminal Procedure Law

By Jonathan Hecht
Lawyers Committee For Human Rights, 1996
87 pp. $12.00
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This fascinating analysis argues that China has at last begun to "reorient its basic approach to criminal justice away from a dominant preoccupation with social control toward a somewhat greater concern for the protection of defendants' rights." In March 1996, China's National People's Congress approved sweeping changes in the country's Criminal Procedure Law, which may result in better protection of defendants' rights in pretrial detention, the right to counsel, prosecutorial determination of guilt, and trial proceedings. The Chinese bar has rapidly grown, so that by the mid-1990s, the number of lawyers in China was approaching 100,000, focusing greater attention on the role of defense counsel. A survey of both the popular press and specialized legal journals indicates broad resentment against such abuses of basic rights as arbitrary detention. The report shows too how foreign criticism has influenced the domestic debate on criminal justice, particularly after China gradually became more engaged in international human rights diplomacy, joining the U.N. Human Rights Commission and acceding to treaties such as the Convention against Torture. In 1990, the Communist Party lifted its informal ban on domestic research and publications on human rights, and since 1990 China has experienced an "unprecedented upsurge" in such publications. Nonetheless, China remains an authoritarian regime and, as this admirably balanced report indicates, as of 1995, 99.65 percent of the people tried for criminal offenses were found guilty.