The central government paid almost 90 million yuan ($14.5 million) in compensation in one year to people convicted of crimes they were later proved not to have committed, according to recently released data.
Up to 825 individuals received such compensation in 2013, costing 87.35 million yuan, an amount roughly equal to the value of 248,000 barrels of oil.
The 2013 work report of the Supreme People’s Court said courts heard 2,045 cases relating to State compensation for these and other cases where individuals were unduly harmed through government actions.
In 2012, 2,035 cases involved State compensation of about 50 million yuan, a Supreme People’s Court official said.
Under current law, citizens can apply for State compensation when they are ruled to have been illegally detained, fined or jailed.
During last year’s two sessions, the annual gatherings of the legislature and top political advisory bodies, top judge Zhou Qiang highlighted the need to fight wrongful convictions, asking courts to strictly abide by laws when making judgments and to hear cases independently.
“We must avoid wrongful cases and legally hold responsible those who make judicial mistakes, thus respecting and protecting human rights,” Zhou said, requiring that each court exclude illegal evidence and prevent innocent people from being convicted.
Although the top court made the correction of wrongful convictions a top priority and made some achievements over the past two years, ensuring that judicial organs properly enforce laws and reduce mistakes remains difficult.
“Rooting out such problems will take judicial bodies much time, and also needs the public to increase its legal awareness,” said Cheng Lei, an associate law professor at Renmin University of China.
Some courts issued improper verdicts after interference by local governments, which blocks the pace of building true justice, Cheng said.
“Residents will respect judgments and will turn to the law to solve disputes when they know our laws can protect them. Otherwise some will prefer other solutions, such as petitions or violence,” he said.
The legal environment improved after national leaders raised the rule of law in the Fourth Plenum of 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee in October, and urged all courts to deal with petitions according to law.
“It’s good for judicial organs to make court procedures transparent and avoid wrongful convictions, as well as for the public to increase its legal awareness,” Cheng said.
Bi Yuqian, a researcher at the China University of Political Science and Law, said people who intentionally disturb judicial officers and regard petitioning as their job should also be punished.
“It’s good to see that the police haven’t made conviction rates their priority since last year, and I think that will reduce wrongful detentions and help decrease petitioning,” said Bi, who also works for the National Judges College.
The top court also said on Dec 23 that it has canceled a convictions ranking used to evaluate a court’s performance, hoping judges will devote more time to trials.
However, Ruan Chuansheng, a criminal lawyer in Shanghai, said it is still difficult to fully resolve the country’s abundant petitions in legal ways.
“It will take a long time for us to root out all the wrongful cases. The emergency now is to ensure every mistake can be punished and that each reform is enforced,” he added.