China issues new judicial guidelines

China for the first time has issued guidelines aimed at preventing wrongful or unjust court judgements in response to high-profile judicial scandals, state media reported Tuesday.

The guidelines were released by the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs, part of the Communist Party's Central Committee, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

It said it was the first time such guidelines had been issued. They largely reiterated existing principles, including preventing punishment in cases where guilt cannot be absolutely established.

The guidelines also stipulated that judges, prosecutors and police will bear "life-long responsibility" for any role they played in wrongful judgements, Xinhua said.

In cases where there was not enough evidence to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, courts should pronounce defendants not guilty, "rather than issuing a judgement based on insufficient evidence".

The guidelines respond to public demands for judicial fairness following several prominent instances of misjudgements, the report said.

It cited the cases of a man and his uncle who were sentenced to death and life in prison, respectively, in 2004 for the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl in eastern China.

The two were eventually acquitted of rape at a retrial in March this year when it was decided there was insufficient evidence to convict them, Xinhua said.

Critics have cited numerous abuses in China's legal system, including the widespread use of the death penalty and re-education through labour, which gives police the right to hand out sentences of up to four years without a judicial trial.

Premier Li Keqiang said in March that the re-education through labour system would be "reformed", without giving further details.