China plans to introduce default judgment in corruption-related criminal cases as authorities step up the fight against crooked officials who have fled overseas.
Lawmakers were briefed on the move Wednesday as a draft revision to the Criminal Procedure Law was submitted to the top legislature for review.
The bimonthly legislative session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) will run from Wednesday to Friday.
"The default judgment will be used against suspects and defendants in corruption or bribery cases who have fled abroad," said Shen Chunyao, chairperson of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.
This piece of legislation is meant to strengthen the efforts to catch overseas fugitives.
"It is a brand new practice in our legal system," said Zhang Xingkuan, a Beijing-based lawyer, adding that the practice will become increasingly important as the country's anti-corruption fight deepens.
Shen, the NPC official, said China's international hunt for fugitives and stolen assets has made great progress since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. It has won broad support from the public.
According to a government white paper, from 2014 to mid-October 2017, 3,453 fugitives were brought back from more than 90 countries and regions. Illegal assets worth 9.5 billion yuan (around 1.5 billion U.S. dollars) were recovered.
"In the past, fugitive officials can only be tried after being repatriated," said Chen Weidong, a professor at Renmin University of China. "With default judgment in place, they will be punished by law even if they escape to the farest corner of the world."
"Under default judgment, prosecutors having thoroughly investigated the case and obtained clear and substantial evidence can bring these cases to court," Shen said. "A collegiate panel will be formed and a copy of the subpoena needs to be sent to the defendant. If the defendant fails to appear, the court can adjudicate the case by default and rule on the defendant's ill-gotten wealth and other related assets. The defendant's rights to litigation will be protected."
According to the draft, the defendant has the right to be represented by defense lawyers. Upon reaching a judgment, the court should inform the defendant of his or her right to object. If such an objection is raised, a retrial will be initiated.
"The draft gives substantial protection of the defendant's rights. It is in line with internationally recognized principles and is similar to the practices taken by most countries," said Chen, the law professor.
Besides corruption cases, Shen said default judgment could also be invoked in other cases if the defendant had died or was mentally ill to the level of being unfit for trial.
Shen said the draft revision to the Criminal Procedure Law would also codify leniency for guilty pleas.
The practice allows suspects and defendants to be considered for mitigated punishment if they voluntarily confess and sign affidavits. The prosecutors make the proposal and the court, upon examining whether the guilty plea is voluntary and the affidavit is legitimate, decides on it.
A pilot has been in place since September 2016.
In the 281 participating courts and procuratorates, the practice was invoked in 91,121 cases, or 45 percent of the total cases settled in the court.
Chen said the practice worked and raised the efficiency of litigation.