China's top judge reproaches courts for miscarriages of justice

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's top judge on Thursday issued a mea culpa for miscarriages of justice that have drawn public ire, calling for increased transparency of the courts in an annual report to the largely rubber-stamp parliament.

The Supreme People's Court has repeatedly promised legal reforms to protect individual rights and prevent judicial abuses in an effort to quell discontent toward the court system, which is subject to Communist Party rule.

"With regard to miscarriages of justice, we deeply reprove ourselves and demand that courts at all levels draw profound lessons, and further strengthen the effective prevention of unjust and false cases and timely correction mechanisms," chief justice Zhou Qiang said.

Zhou said courts must "leave no hiding places for judicial corruption".

Courts revised sentences in 1,317 cases in 2014 and corrected "a number" of wrongful sentences, Zhou said. There were 1.184 million convictions last year, compared to the 1.158 million cases in 2013.

In one high profile case, a court in December exonerated a teenager from the Inner Mongolia region 18 years after he was wrongfully executed for killing and raping a women.

Anti-death penalty campaigners say China, which does not announce the number of people executed, uses the death penalty far more than other countries. While wrongful executions have stirred public outrage, capital punishment has wide public support.

Nonetheless, China's leaders are deeply worried about social unrest stemming from land grabs, corruption and pollution - issues often left unresolved by courts.

They have made attempts to nominally increase the independence of the judiciary, including pilot programmes for circuit courts to limit interference from local officials.

But experts argue that real judicial reform will be difficult so long as China's courts answer to the party. Despite improvements to the country's legal code, laws are often not enforced and abused by the police.

President Xi Jinping has made an ongoing anti-corruption campaign a calling card of his administration.

China's top prosecutor said in a separate report that it had increased anti-corruption cases by 42 per cent in 2014 and investigated 4,040 government employees at the county level or above.

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