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China legislature adopts law extending rights of defense lawyers

[JURIST] China's National People's Congress (NPC) [official website] Sunday adopted a draft amendment to the country's Law on Lawyers [text] that will grant defense lawyers more power in criminal prosecutions. The amendment, the first since the original law's implementation in 1997, includes a loosening of restrictions on face-to-face meetings between lawyers and their clients, increased access to court documents and case files, and more flexibility in independently gathering and collecting evidence. The reforms also prohibit the state from conducting surveillance of the defendants meeting their lawyers, and grants defense lawyers legal immunity for statements in court provided that statements do not constitute slander or threaten national security.

A set of reforms to the Law on Lawyers was initially presented [JURIST report] to Chinese legislators in June, but at that time it included a provision that "Apart from cases related to state secrets, criminal lawyers can meet clients after judicial organs conduct the initial interrogation or other coercive measures." The proviso was dropped [JURIST report] in a new version of the law sent to the the Standing Committee of the NPC in August. A spokesman for the NPC Law Committee said that the change had been motivated by human rights concerns. Beijing has been especially sensitive to actual and potential rights-related criticism in the run-up to the scheduled 2008 Beijing Olympics [JURIST news archive; official website]. Xinhua has more.

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