Henan High People's Court has announced proposals to reform the way defendants in criminal trials will be treated during proceedings, including being able to sit with their defense lawyers, the first time this would be allowed in China, experts said.
The proposals also reiterate and reinforce that defendants should not be ordered to have their heads shaved prior to the trial, and they are permitted to wear their own clothes, instead of prison uniforms.
"The accused can't be judged guilty before he is convicted and jailed. Wearing criminal clothes, shaving heads and standing in a dock indicate that the defendant is guilty," Zhang Liyong, the head of the court, said at a press conference Monday, the Zhengzhou Evening News reported.
Defendants will be allowed to sit with their lawyers, and should not be put in the middle of the courtroom to ensure they have equal rights in court, said Zhang.
Apart from some defendants who are deemed a risk to others' safety, they are not to be forcibly restrained by handcuffs, chains or other methods while in court. And paper and pen should be prepared for them to make a personal record of the trial, he added.
The new moves aim to remove the label of being a criminal from the accused and ensure equality for the accused and their accusers, he said.
"Zhang's proposals are designed to protect the human rights of defendants," Sun Zhiping, a vice director with the court's publicity department, told the Global Times on Tuesday. The proposals will be enacted after further discussion, although no timeframe was given.
Hong Daode, a professor with China University of Political Science and Law, said that allowing defendants to sit with lawyers will be a major change.
"This is a great break-through, which means defendants can get help more easily from their lawyers. This will protect the rights of the accused," Hong said. "Their communication should be heard only by themselves."
However, Han Yusheng, a law professor with Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that frequent communication between the accused and their lawyers in court will harm the court's gravity and authority.
Dong Chengwei, a lawyer with Zhong Yin law firm in Beijing, said that the accused in serious violent cases could present safety concerns to lawyers, the Beijing Evening News reported.
In 1992, the Supreme People's Court, national prosecutors and the Ministry of Public Security
issued a notice, forbidding authorities to have suspects' hair shaven unless they ask to do so. The court is also forbidden to put restraints on defendants in court unless they threaten violence. The notice also said suspects can't wear uniforms with any incriminating words such as "prison" and "criminal."
Across the country, many local courts have followed the notice, according to legal experts, but there are many places that have kept the old customs.