Posts tagged: Supreme People’s Court

Glenn Tiffert On China’s Recent Jurisdictional Issues

By , September 9, 2012

Jurisdiction is central in any legal system; it is jurisdiction that gives a court its power to administer justice.  Without proper jurisdiction, a court’s opinion is defective.  Thus, given its importance, all legal systems design specific rules governing when a court has jurisdiction over a case.

But recently in China, how courts have gained jurisdiction in criminal trials has been called into question.  The trial of Gu Kailai, for a murder that took place in Chongqing, was heard in Hefei.  Wang Lijun was police chief of Chongqing, but his crimes are being heard in a Chengdu court.  Has the Chinese legal system ignored all rules concerning what gives a court jurisdiction?  Or are there other rules that apply?

Glenn D. Tiffert, a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of California, Berkeley with a focus on the legal history of the PRC, explains below that what might look like a random selection of courts actually has a basis in law.  Tiffert also reminds us that there is more than just the Criminal Procedure Law to look at in understanding the Chinese criminal legal system. 

Mixed-Up Confusion?  The Different Ways Chinese Courts Obtain Jurisdiction

By Glenn D. Tiffert

Part 1 of a two part series exploring the jurisdictional issues in recent criminal cases

As the Chinese legal system works its way through the various cases connected to the “Bo Xilai Affair,” it is a good time to review the usually unglamorous procedural rules governing jurisdiction.  The Bo Xilai Affair has brought these jurisdictional rules to the forefront and is generating more than the usual amount of interest among China watchers; even those focused on Chinese law are finding twists worth exploring.

To keep things simple, I will explore jurisdictional issues in the Gu Kailai and Wang Lijun cases alone, although my points could apply more generally to the other defendants connected to Gu, namely her accomplice Zhang Xiaojun, and the four police officers charged with covering up her crime.  This post will look at territorial jurisdiction, in other words, where the trials were held.  A later post will examine why both cases were assigned to intermediate level People’s Courts.

Gu Kailai being led into Hefei Intermediate People's Court

To recap: Gu Kailai was convicted of the intentional homicide of Neil Heywood, a British citizen resident in China, and the crime was alleged to have taken place in Chongqing, Sichuan province, the city her powerful husband, Bo Xilai, presided over as Party Secretary.  However, Gu’s trial took place 800 miles away from the city of Chongqing, in the city of Hefei, Anhui province, a place that had no known connection to the homicide, or to the alleged crimes of the other defendants associated with her.  Observers have suggested various practical or political reasons for why the trial was not held in Chongqing, and why it may have been assigned to Hefei, but those need not concern us here.  We are interested in discovering the legal authority for the assignment of the case to Hefei.

Article 24 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC establishes the general rule that: “A criminal case shall be under the jurisdiction of the People’s Court in the place where the crime was committed.  If it is more appropriate for the case to be tried by the People’s Court in the place where the defendant resides, then that court may have jurisdiction over the case.”   Additionally, the Criminal Procedure Law provides rules for cases in which more than one court could claim jurisdiction, or in which jurisdiction is unclear.  For example, Article 25 states: “When several People’s Courts at the same level have jurisdiction over a case, it shall be tried by the People’s Court that first accepted it. When necessary the case may be transferred for trial to the People’s Court in the principal place where the crime was committed.”  However, in the case of Gu Kailai, none of these basic rules provide a basis for trying her in Hefei.  As a result, we must look elsewhere.

The Chinese legal system provides several routes for transferring jurisdiction over a case from one court to another.  For example, pursuant to the Criminal Procedure Law and the Law on the Organization of the People’s Courts, a lower level court with jurisdiction over a major or complex case can request a higher level court to take over the case.  But because Gu Kailai was charged with a capital crime, we can rule this path out.  Article 20 of the Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that intermediate level courts have jurisdiction of first instance over crimes punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty and, because this case was actually tried by an intermediate level court, a lower court could not have had jurisdiction over it first.

One jurisdictional route rises above the rest.  Article 26 of the Criminal Procedure Law provides that: “A People’s Court at a higher level may assign a People’s Court at a lower level to try a case over which jurisdiction is unclear and may also instruct a People’s Court at a lower level to transfer the case to another People’s Court for trial.”

Article 26 can be parsed in different ways, with different results attaching.  To resolve the ambiguity, we must do what we do in any legal system, move beyond the four corners of the statute to consult supporting texts and practice, both of which indicate that the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) essentially regards Article 26 as comprising two independent clauses, the second of which matters here.  Hence we get: “A People’s Court at a higher level may… instruct a People’s Court at a lower level to transfer the case to another People’s Court for trial.”

The authoritative SPC Interpretation on Certain Questions Pertaining to the Implementation of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC (“the SPC Interpretation”) stipulates two ways that can happen.  First, under Article 18 of the SPC Interpretation, when the President of a lower level court must recuse himself[1] and it would be “unsuitable” for that court to assert its jurisdiction over a case, that court may ask a higher level court to take over jurisdiction.  The higher level court may take jurisdiction or assign it to another court at the same (lower) level as the first court.  Article 19 of the SPC Interpretation requires the higher court to send its decision on jurisdiction – 管辖决定书 (guanxia juedingshu) – to the lower court newly awarded jurisdiction and to other relevant courts.  Second, Article 22 of the SPC Interpretation allows a higher level court on its own initiative to assign jurisdiction over a case from one lower level court to another lower level court “when necessary,” without first requiring a request from below or that the second court be of the same level as the first.

Admittedly, we know few hard facts about the procedural history of the Gu Kailai case, but one nugget stands out.  The Xinhua reporting on the trial indicates that the SPC issued a decision on jurisdiction to the Hefei Intermediate People’s Court, and the Hefei court accepted the case for trial on that basis.  We do not know precisely whether this decision was based on Article 18 or 22 of the SPC Interpretation, as either might reasonably have applied, but the SPC evidently used its inherent power under Article 26 of the Criminal Procedure Law, as expounded in the SPC Interpretation, to transfer Gu’s case to Hefei.  One may furthermore assume that the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued complementary instructions so that procurators would actually argue the case there, too.

The Supreme People's Court

Assuming that the SPC complied with its own Interpretation of the Criminal Procedure Law, we may infer from its decision on jurisdiction that another court originally accepted the case.  We do not know which court that may have been, but an obvious candidate would have been the Chongqing Intermediate People’s Court.  Under this scenario, three possibilities present: first, the unnamed court claimed jurisdiction over the case without the approval of senior Party and judicial authorities in Beijing, which seems implausible; second, Beijing granted its approval and then changed its mind; and third, acceptance by the unnamed court served, in the interests of formal compliance with procedural requirements, purely as a trigger for transfer to Hefei.  Regardless, as the highest court in the land, once the SPC transferred jurisdiction, the decision was effectively immune from challenge or appeal.

In comparison, the Wang Lijun case is more straightforward.  At least one of Wang’s alleged crimes took place in Chengdu: his purported “defection” in the United States consulate.  Notwithstanding substantive problems matching the facts as we know them to the elements of this crime, Chengdu judicial authorities may properly claim jurisdiction over the case under Article 25 of the Criminal Procedure Law (discussed above), and barring an unlikely protest from their counterparts in Chongqing or any other locale in which Wang is alleged to have committed crimes, the trial will take place in the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court.  Indeed, given the stakes in trying Wang, one may assume that the SPC, and the political leadership behind it, assents to Chengdu jurisdiction, either tacitly or by assignment.  When the verdict is announced, we may know which.

Historically, reassignments of lower court jurisdiction by higher level courts are not uncommon in the Chinese judicial system, where concerns about local protectionism, judicial independence and varying levels of judicial competence adversely affecting trial outcomes run high.  The 2008 criminal trial of former Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu in Tianjin is another prominent, recent example.  Cases like those of Chen Liangyu and Gu Kailai shine a spotlight on one of the Chinese judicial system’s underappreciated features.


[1] Article 28 of the Criminal Procedure Law defines the grounds for recusal, including “relations with a party to the case that could affect the impartial handling of the case.”

A Paper Tiger? China Issues New Regulations to Exclude Illegally Obtained Evidence

China's new criminal justice regulations or a paper tiger?  You decide

China’s new criminal justice regulations or a paper tiger? You decide

It is rare to wake up in the morning, turn on the computer and find that China just made huge changes to its criminal procedures, and in a positive way.  But that was exactly where I found myself Tuesday morning when I saw that China passed two new criminal justice regulations, one of which attempts to stem the tide of the increasing use of confessions obtained through torture.

Torture of criminal suspects in order to obtain a confession remains a common practice in China as the confession is usually the key piece of evidence in criminal trials.   But as a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture, such action is nominally illegal in China.  Article 43 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), forbids the use of torture or coercion in obtaining statements or evidence and in the Supreme People’s Court’s Interpretation of the CPL (“SPC Interpretation”) – a document meant to provide greater detail to the vaguely drafted CPL – Article 61 states that evidence obtained through torture cannot be used as the verdict’s basis.

But neither of these provisions directly discusses the actual admissibility of this illegally obtained evidence, and the SPC Interpretation is only applicable to judicial bodies, not administrative organs such as the police or the state security bureaus.  Because current law is silent on its admissibility, confessions obtain through torture, while nominally illegal, are routinely used in criminal cases.  And the danger associated with such methods, namely the risk of sentencing an innocent person to prison or even death, have been increasing.  Just this month, Henan farmer Zhao Zuohai was released from his 11-year prison sentence when the man he was found guilty of killing, returned alive to their village.

Zhao’s story is not a one-off event, and such occurrences usually receive a tremendous amount of media attention, causing the Chinese public to be critical of the criminal justice system, question its validity, and, as a result, frighten the Chinese government.  There have been rumors of reform for the past few years, and on Monday morning such reforms were adopted.  The SPC, the Supreme People’ Procuratorate (SPP), the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the Ministry of State Security (MSS), and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) released two new regulations: “Regulations on Examining and Evaluation Evidence in Capital Cases” and “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases.” The Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence goes the furthest in providing greater protection of criminal suspects and, through various procedural safeguards, attempts to eliminate the use of torture in obtaining confessions.

The reforms, which seem to be taken directly from a Law & Order episode, are rather sweeping and sophisticated, and

Forget about LA.  Next Stop, Law & Order: China!

Forget about LA. Next Stop, Law & Order: China!

if implemented, can successfully eliminate torture and provide for greater justice.  But that’s the catch: in a system where more than 70% of defendants go without counsel and in the few cases with counsel, obstacles to effective representation abound, will such reforms really mean anything?  Because the regulations have yet to be publically published, the analysis below is based upon a summary provided to the Chinese media by Prof. Fan Chongyi, noted criminal law professor at the China University of Politics and Law and participant in drafting the reforms.

(1) Oral testimony that is the result of torture may be excluded from evidence.    Oral testimony that was the result of improper procedures, such as when only one investigator partakes in an interrogation [the law requires at least two interrogators], does not necessarily have to be excluded if it can be corrected.

Although this regulation certainly clarifies that courts may exclude confessions obtained through torture, the new regulation in no way creates an absolute “exclusionary rule.”  Instead, by using the term “may,” the regulation largely leaves it in the hands of the courts to decide whether to admit evidence obtained through torture.  Given the lack of judicial independence and the power of local security bureaus in China, it is questionable if local courts, when pressed by more powerful forces, will in fact exclude confessions based on torture.  Additionally, in cases where improper procedure was used, it is unclear what would need to be done to “correct” the issue and allow for the testimony to be admissible.  Perhaps the regulations, when officially issued, will clarify this.

(2) The defendant and his attorney have the right to request a pre-trial hearing concerning an illegally obtained confession.  The court may request that the defendant or his lawyer provide the names of the alleged officer involved in the illegality, the place, the time, the method used, the content of the illegality, and anything else related to the claim.

In a society with few rights for defendants, this regulation explicitly providing for the right to raise the issue of admissibility is rather extraordinary.  Additionally, the regulation calls for a pre-trial hearing to determine whether illegally obtained evidence should be admitted.  By separating the decision concerning the admissibility of the evidence from the actual trial, the regulation attempts to guarantee that the illegally obtained evidence in no way influences the final verdict.

By giving the defendant the right to question the admissibility of evidence, the regulation raises a bigger issue: when most defendants are not represented by counsel, who will inform the defendant of his or her rights?  Presumably in a situation of a confession obtained through torture, neither the police nor the prosecutor has much interest in informing the defendant of his right to attempt to invalidate the confession they just worked hard to obtain.  The alternative, that the court informs the defendant of his or her right, does not appear to be mandated by the regulations, making it questionable if the court will, on its own initiative, inform the defendant.  Given the pressures on the court as discussed in point 1 above, such action appears unlikely.

But even with a lawyer, a defendant will still have difficulty in raising the issue of a coerced confession.  A Li Zhuangdefendant’s changing his testimony, even if the prior confession was in fact the result of torture, is not in the self-interest of his attorney.  Article 306 of China’s Criminal Law (CL) provides criminal liability, and a prison term of up to seven years, to lawyers who entice their clients to change their testimony in opposition to the facts or to give false testimony.  While the overarching purpose of the sanction – to ensure that lawyers do not encourage their clients to lie – is laudable, Article 306 has been used by police and prosecutor as a way to intimidate defense counsel from questioning the validity of any confession, even when torture is obvious.  And this is not an idle threat.  This past year, after a high-profile case representing an organized crime syndicate in Chongqing, criminal defense attorney Li Zhuang was charged with violating Article 306 by advising his client to recant his confession on the basis that it was obtained through torture.  Li was eventually found guilty and sentenced to one year and six months in prison.  Thus, as long as there is Article 306, there remains an incentive for lawyers to advise their clients NOT to recant their confession.

Finally, while the regulation’s designation of a pre-trial hearing to determine the admissibility of illegally obtained evidence is a step in the right direction, such a pre-trial hearing is meaningless if the judge deciding the admissibility of the evidence is the same judge that will determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant (in China, judges determine guilt; there are no juries).  Having the same judge decide both would defeat the purpose of attempting to prevent illegally obtained evidence from influencing the trial portion.  It will be interesting to see if the officially published regulations will clarify this issue.

(3) After the defendant or his lawyer raises the issue of illegally obtained evidence and provides the details required by the court [see point 2 above], the burden of proof then switches to the prosecutor to show that the evidence was obtained legally.

This regulation is perhaps the most impressive in that it is also the most sophisticated.  Burdens of proof are

Prosecutors await trial in China

Prosecutors await trial in China

difficult concepts to understand, and knowing when to switch the burden from one party to another, can give an otherwise ineffective rule teeth. The law seeks to switch the burden of proof to the party that has the greatest opportunity to determine the truth.  Here, as China correctly notes, that party is the prosecutor.  The prosecutor, in working with the police and at times as part of the interrogation, has the best opportunity to demonstrate the admissibility of the confession.

Additionally, switching the burden of proof can also create an entirely new incentive structure to prevent the illegal behavior from ever occurring.  Here, China utilizes this concept.  Once the prosecutor has the burden of proof to show that evidence was obtained legally, he or she will seek to have procedures in place to guarantee that the police do not violate the law in obtaining evidence so that if the defendant raises the issue, the prosecutor can win.  For example, while there has been a few cities in China that have experimented with videotaping police interrogations, this practice has largely remained isolated.  But, with the switched burden of proof, prosecutors all across China will seek to implement methods to guarantee that confessions are obtained legally, and may seek to pressure their police counterparts to begin recording all interrogations. This regulation could potentially change the way interrogations are performed and recorded, reducing the risk that torture is used.

However, it is still subject to the criticism noted in points 1 and 2 above: will the court decide to exclude evidence even if illegally-obtained since it is not required to do so and will the defendant even know to act upon his or her rights?  If the answer is no, then the incentives created by the switched burden of proof remain irrelevant.

(4) The interrogator (usually the police or the prosecutor) must appear in court and testify.

While this might seem mundane to most Americans, as Prof. Fan notes, for China, this is pioneering.  In China, China policethere is very little live testimony during criminal trials.  Just forcing someone to actually appear and testify in court is radical.  Having that person be a police officer is even more shocking.  In China, the state security apparatus is a powerful body and far outranks the courts or the nascent criminal defense bar.  The fact that the MSS and the MPS agreed to this regulation is certainly surprising and raises a red flag: has the MSS and MPS really agreed to give the courts power over their employees?

Again, the criticism of the new regulations noted in point 1 and 2 are applicable here as well.  Will we even reach the point that there is a hearing questioning the legality of evidence?  Likely not.  But regardless of those issues, the regulation itself seems to be without any bite.  Unless the officially published version expounds upon this regulation, there are no procedures in place to determine which party can call the police office to testify or whether defense counsel will be permitted to cross-examine the police officer, both necessary to guarantee that the regulation is effective.

(5) In regards to illegally obtained physical evidence, if the illegally obtained evidence has the potential to influence the fairness of the trial, then it should be excluded unless there is a reasonable reason for the illegality or it can be corrected.

This regulation is perhaps the vaguest, and thus weakest of them all; it appears to be inspired by the U.S.’ “fruit of fruitpoisonthe poisonous tree” (FPT) doctrine.  Under the FPT doctrine, other evidence discovered as a result of an illegal search or interrogation is also excluded.   For instance, after an illegal search of a house (the poisonous tree) a key to a locker is found and in that locker is the murder weapon (fruit), that murder weapon will also be excluded.  An exception exists if it can be shows that the discovery would have been inevitable or the discovery would have been made through an untainted source.

China’s regulation here seems to adopt the spirit but not the substance of the FPT doctrine, by only looking to the FPT exceptions.  In the U.S., the exceptions to the FPT doctrine are only applied to the fruit; no exception is made for the poisonous tree.   Here, China applies similar exceptions to the actual tree, to the evidence that was obtained directly as a result of the illegal violation.

This regulation is further weakened by the fact that these terms “reasonable reason” and “corrected” are left completely undefined.  Courts are left to their own devices to determine what these terms mean, a situation that was suppose to be avoided by these new regulations.

China’s “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases” is impressive and provides the architecture necessary to guarantee greater fairness in China’s criminal trials by excluding evidence obtained illegally.  The sophistication of some aspects of the new regulations reflects China’s increasing understanding of the need for effective procedures in order to give meaning to its legal principles.  However, these regulations should be viewed as a step toward greater progress; China has only stuck its foot in the water; it has yet to jump fully in.  China needs to find solutions to the systemic problems plaguing its criminal justice system. Unless China makes efforts to foster a vibrant criminal defense bar, provide access to attorneys early in criminal investigations, and takes steps to create a judiciary independent from the state security and Party apparatus, the new regulations will likely have little impact in the short-term.

Will the Chinese Courts Allow Another Mentally Ill Individual be Executed?

By , October 26, 2009
Originally posted on the Huffington Post.
British citizen and Chinese death row inmate, Akmal Shaik

British citizen and Chinese death row inmate, Akmal Shaik

Akmal Shaikh’s story is not unique.  Everyday criminal justice systems across the world deal with the mentally ill, often in disastrous ways and with dire consequences; the United States alone has executed over 100 mentally ill people since it reinstated the death penalty in 1977.  But what makes Mr. Shaikh’s story unusual is that this mentally ill British citizen is now sitting on death row in China, with a potential execution only days away. 

For the vast majority of his fifty-three years, Mr. Shaikh led a rather ordinary life, the kind of life that happily goes unnoticed by the world-at-large.  Running a thriving mini-cab business, Mr. Shaikh was the modicum of middle-class London success, living with his wife and five kids in Kentish Town.  But by the end of 2003, things began to rapidly change and Mr. Shaikh’s peaceful existence would be no more. 

In 2004, Mr. Shaikh left his family and moved to Poland with the goal of starting his own airline business although he lacked both financial capital and any knowledge of the business.  Not surprisingly, left untreated, his mental state continued to deteriorate.  Mr. Shaikh sent over 100 bizarre emails to the British Embassy in Warsaw, Scotland Yard, and even Paul McCartney, often making little to no sense.  However it was in Poland, away from his family, that Mr. Shaikh’s mental illness was preyed upon by a group of international drug dealers that would ultimately trick him into carrying drugs into China, a country that makes the United States’ zero tolerance to drugs look like a joke. 

Promising him a successful music career in China, Mr. Shaikh, who now wanted to become a Chinese pop star although unable to speak any Chinese, was told to fly to the Chinese northwest city of Urumqi with one of the drug dealer’s suitcases.  On September 12, 2007, at the Urumqi airport, Mr. Shaikh was arrested by the police for transporting four kilograms of heroin into China, a charge that is death penalty eligible in China and usually gets it. 

On October 29, 2008, Mr. Shaikh was found guilty and sentenced to death by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court.  On October 13, 2009, his first appeal, or what is known in China as a “trial in the second instance,” was rejected and his death sentence affirmed.  Mr. Shaikh’s case is now in the hands of the highest court in China, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  If they too affirm his death sentence, he will be executed in a matter of days.  But will the SPC take into account, as required under Chinese law, Mr. Shaikh’s mental illness?  Will the SPC see this case as an opportunity to finally establish procedures to determine a defendant’s mental illness, something the Chinese people have desperately been calling for?

Mental Illness and the Chinese Criminal Justice System: A System Not Unlike Ours

There is no doubt that Mr. Shaikh trafficked drugs into China.  Under Article 347 of the Chinese Criminal Law, trafficking more than 50 grams of heroin into China is subject to a prison term of 15 years, a life sentence, or the death penalty; here Mr. Shaikh brought in over 80 times that minimum amount – four kilograms of heroin.  China, like the United States, takes a harsh stance against drugs and often gives the maximum sentence of death for drug trafficking, and here, given the amount trafficked, Mr. Shaikh’s death sentence is far from surprising.  And even though Mr. Shaikh’s crime would not be death eligible in his home country of the United Kingdom, by committing the crime in China, he is subject to Chinese law and his foreign citizenship in no way excuses him from punishment. 

But Chinese law takes into account mental illness when determining a defendant’s culpability.  Article 18 of the Criminal Law eliminates all criminal culpability for those defendants who suffer from severe mental illness. For defendants whose mental illness is intermittent or less than severe, Article 18 allows the court to consider such factors in sentencing, permitting the court to give a lighter punishment than ordinarily required. 

Normatively, the Chinese criminal law, at least in terms of the mentally ill, is not too different from the criminal laws of the United States or the United Kingdom – all of these countries seek to protect the vulnerable class of the mentally ill from the harshness of the criminal law.  But where China differs is in its ability to implement these normative values, and Mr. Shaikh’s case is a prime example of this disconnect between the goals of the Chinese Criminal Law and its actual practice, an example that is becoming all too common in today’s China. 

Lack of Procedures to Determine Mental Illness in China’s Criminal Law

It was not until Mr. Shaikh’s appeal, the trial in the second instance, that the issue of his mental illness was raised by his attorneys.  And although the appellate judges laughed openly in court at Mr. Shaikh’s bizarre behavior in the courtroom, they found that Mr. Shaikh was not mentally ill.  The court based its judgment solely on Mr. Shaikh’s personal testimony that he does not suffer from mental illness and the fact that his family lacked a history of any mental disease.  There was no psychiatric examination of Mr. Shaikh or testimony from mental health experts regarding his mental state.  Instead, the judges merely relied upon their own observation and the testimony from an apparently mentally ill individual that he is completely sane. 

Mr. Shaikh’s case is not an example of the Chinese court subverting proper procedure.  Instead, Mr. Shaikh’s case is reflective of the fact that there is little to no procedures in place to actually determine the mental health of a defendant.  And this is not the first time that the issue of mental health, and the inability of the justice system to implement procedures to protect the mentally ill, has come up.  In fact, in the past three years, two Chinese citizens, Yang Jia (pronounced Yang Gee-ah) and Qiu Xinghua (pronounced Chiu Sing-hua), have both been executed even though questions of their mental health was openly debated by the Chinese legal community as well as by the Chinese public.  Calls from the Chinese people to protect these apparently mentally ill individuals went unheeded by the justice system. 

Instead, the courts have maintained a system that offers little opportunity to question the mental health of the defendant.  Neither the Criminal Law nor the Criminal Procedure Law offer any instruction on how mental health determinations should be made.  And other guidelines, namely the “Provisional Regulations on Psychiatric Evaluation of Mental Illness” and the “Procedural Rules on Forensic Analysis,” offer little else.  As a result, pre-trial psychiatric examinations are not mandated, and instead are left in the hands of the police, the prosecutors or the court to initiate.  As seen in the case of Mr. Shaikh, this often does not happen. The party that has the most interest in conducting a psychiatric exam – namely the defense – is not permitted to initiate such an examination under Chinese law; all the defense can ask for is a re-evaluation only after the prosecution conducts one.  The re-evaluation would still be conducted by experts of the state’s choosing (See Zhiyuan Guo, “Approaching Visible Justice: Procedural Safeguards for Mental Examinations in China’s Capital Cases,” 32 Hastings Int’l and Comp. Law Review, forthcoming).  As a result, too many mentally ill individuals, both Chinese and now a foreigner, are denied the justice and protection they are entitled to under Chinese law.  

The SPC Should Give Life to the Chinese People’s Will

Mr. Shaikh’s future now lies in the hands of China’s highest court.  Because of his citizenship, the British government

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese President Hu Jintao

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese President Hu Jintao

has become involved, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown discussing Mr. Shaikh’s fate with Chinese President Hu Jintao this past September during the G20 Summit. 

But the British government and the international community are not asking the Chinese courts to making an exception for a foreigner or to suspend the application of its laws to a non-Chinese.  Instead, they are requesting that the SPC give life to the Chinese Criminal Law’s promise to protect the mentally ill.

This is not just a foreign request; the Chinese people themselves have repeatedly called upon the courts to offer these protections.  Article 18 of the Criminal Law reflects their sentiment.  Furthermore, during both the Yang Jia and Qiu Xinghua trials in 2008 and 2006, respectively, the Chinese people, through online discussion boards and at the courts themselves, ardently protested the lack of protection for the mentally ill.  The Chinese people understand the need to give life to the promise of justice for the mentally ill found in the Criminal Law; it is now up to the courts to make that a reality. 

The true test of a society’s criminal justice system is how well it protects society’s most vulnerable.  With Mr. Shaikh’s case, the SPC has the opportunity to establish procedures by which the mentally ill can be protected.  By either remanding his case for psychiatric examination or by performing the examination itself, the SPC will not only potentially protect Mr. Shaikh, but also the hundreds of mentally ill Chinese defendants that interact with the Chinese criminal justice system on a daily basis.

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