New policy shows rights protection progress, reduces wrong convictions
Starting Wednesday, every defendant in a criminal case in China is expected to get a defense lawyer to represent them as required by a new program, a move that experts believe shows great progress in China's judicial protection of human rights and could prevent wrongful convictions.
All defendants subject to criminal litigation have the right to represent themselves or ask for a lawyer, said the document released by The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Supreme People's Court on Wednesday.
The move is a sign of great progress in protecting human rights and is in line with China's judicial reforms and new rules that can guarantee that all criminal defendants receive professional help, Zhang Jianwei, a Tsinghua University law professor, told the Global Times.
Chen Youxi, a lawyer with the Jingheng Law Firm in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, explained that only 25 to 30 percent of defendants in criminal cases would receive help from a professional lawyer in the past.
Courts need to guarantee that defendants below the legal age or who are having economic difficulties can appeal for legal assistance, the circular states, and that all defendants must be informed of their right to legal assistance within three days of the court accepting the case.
"In the past, most of suspects or proven criminals did not have a decent economic and educational level and did not have the sense or ability to ask for a legal defense team," Chen told the Global Times on Thursday.
This new development could also help cut the number of wrongful convictions by allowing a lawyer to offer professional defense or challenge a ruling if the defendant is thought to be innocent.
Zhang added that a critical part of the new rule is to prevent formalism and to make certain that the lawyer's defense arguments are effective, since some lawyers may not be responsible or experienced enough or the court may just ignore the lawyer's argument.
Another important aspect of the ruling is that the costs of legal assistance for people accused of crimes must be guaranteed through the support from the MOJ and finance departments.
The new policy could also provide more chances for China's more than 330,000 lawyers and give them more opportunities to bone up on their criminal defense strategies, said Chen.
Chen added that it could take as many as three to five years to fully cover the whole country for financial reasons and the lack of criminal lawyers.
Eight provinces and cities have been chosen for a trial run of the new ruling: Beijing, Shanghai, East China's Zhejiang and Anhui provinces, Central China's Henan Province, South China's Guangdong Province, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, and Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.