BEIJING, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- China's legislature on Saturday approved plea bargaining in criminal cases to find a balance in the criminal justice system.
At the closing meeting of the legislative session of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, a proposal to allow suspects and defendants to plead guilty in return for a lesser charge was approved.
The measures will be piloted in 18 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, according to the proposal submitted by the Supreme People's Court (SPC) and Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) to the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.
"Suspects and defendants who are willing to confess, agree with prosecutors' crime and sentencing proposals, and sign affidavits, will be given mitigated punishments," said the proposal.
The measures will take effect on Sept. 4.
Zhou Qiang, president of the SPC, explained that there can be no punishment in cases where there was doubt or insufficient evidence, but that in practice it was often difficult to obtain sufficient evidence, especially in cases where concealment was involved. Therefore, suspects and defendants should be encouraged to confess, which would help prevent the obtaining of evidence through illegal methods such as torture.
Procedures will also simplify imposing a lesser charge where the defendant enters a guilty plea, he said.
The new plans will enable courts to pass sentences without unnecessary investigation and debate, and before a defendants' final statement is heard.
The pilot will encourage "pleading guilty to a lesser charge" while protecting rights of defendants and victims and protecting society's interests, according to the proposal.
Zhou said that the pilot would boost judicial fairness and efficiency. Though China has seen a decline in serious criminal cases threatening social order, the number of minor cases is still large and they are not always efficiently dealt with by understaffed judicial departments.
Defendants who face jail terms of under three years fall under the pilot.
Suspects should be informed of their legal rights and the consequences of plea bargaining by police and prosecutors, who should also listen to the opinions of suspects and their lawyers, Zhou said.
Those who plead guilty non-voluntarily will not be included in the pilot, and judicial assistance will be provided to suspects to prevent judicial error, Zhou said, adding that the pilot would be strictly supervised by the Ministry of Public Security and the SPP.
Those involved in trading power for money, judicial corruption, or extorting confessions through torture will face severe punishment, said Zhou.
After the two-year pilot, the top legislature will revise the law depending on the outcome of the experiment.