[JURIST] The number of death sentences handed down by Chinese courts in the first five months of 2007 has decreased following the implementation of reforms [JURIST report] which require all death sentences to receive the approval of the Supreme People's Court [official website], Chinese state media reported Thursday. Citing statistics from the Beijing No. 1 and No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, the China Daily found that the number of death sentences handed out in cases of first instance dropped approximately 10 percent from the same time last year. Ni Shou-ming, spokesperson for the high court, told China Daily that lower courts have become more "prudent" following the implementation of the reforms, fearing that a case could be remanded for retrial and the associated "shame" of being found to have giving a wrong judgment. Ni also said that the Supreme People's Court will issue a guideline on the death penalty, which Ni says will provide a "yardstick for all provinces and promote fairness."
In October of last year, China's National People's Congress [official website] voted to amend the Organic Law on the People's Courts [text; JURIST report], after the high court said [JURIST report] it wanted to remove the authority from lower courts to review death sentences [JURIST report]. The high court delegated the authority to lower courts in 1981 following a rise in serious crimes such as murder, robbery, and drug trafficking. An expert on Chinese criminal law has predicted that the number of death sentences will decrease by approximately 20 percent in 2007. AP has more. China Daily has local coverage.