Supreme People's Court of China Photo Credit: People's Supreme Court of China Website
In an important development in judicial transparency, China has released detailed statistics on sentencing and convictions by Chinese courts in 2017. The statistics are broken down by crime, length of sentences, and age and gender of defendants. The statistics, compiled by the Supreme People’s Court, are provided in two tables in the China Law Yearbook, 2018 Edition, available for purchase in China but not overseas. The yearbook also provides, for the first time, the number of cases that have been accepted by courts for trials of the first instance that have not yet been concluded.
Tables presenting the data can be found below.
Key findings for 2017 include:
- Trials rarely result in acquittal. More than 99.9 percent of criminal trials resulted in guilty judgments. Although the acquittal rate of 0.091 percent in 2017 is extremely low, it is actually the highest rate since 2010, when it was 0.099 percent.
- Forty-four percent of criminal judgments did not result in time spent in prison.
- More than 86 percent of trials in China resulted in sentences of less than five years in prison in 2017.
- A surprisingly high percentage of trials – 27 percent – resulted in suspended sentences in 2017.
- Deprivation of Political Rights and Deportation were rarely used as a stand-alone sentence in 2017.
- More than 83 percent of individuals convicted of crimes were between the ages of 25 and 60 in 2017. Only two percent of those convicted were over the age of 60.
- Women made up 9.3 percent of defendants convicted in criminal trials in 2017. This is a relatively high number and suggests that the number of women in prison continues to rise. The Ministry of Justice no longer publishes statistics on the number of female prisoners in China.
- 32,778 juveniles (defined as individuals between the ages of 14 and 18) were convicted by Chinese courts in 2017. Of these, 217 were girls. It is not known how many juveniles were placed under coercive measures. In 2010, Chinese police arrested 80,000 juveniles, of whom 64 percent or 51,200 were placed under coercive measures.
In addition, statistics on trials reveal that trials of the first instance for endangering state security (ESS) and dereliction of military duty accepted by courts totaled 441 cases in 2017; 448 cases were concluded. The great majority of these two crimes, grouped together as "other," were for ESS. These numbers are consistent with previous years. Of cases accepted by courts, 86 cases had not been concluded by year’s end.
Although the Supreme People’s Court has taken the lead in advancing judicial transparency, the same cannot be said of other judicial organs. As noted above, the Ministry of Justice has, since 2015, declined to provide statistics on the number of juveniles and women in prison. In its 2019 work report for the National People’s Congress, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate groups the ten categories of crimes into six segments, putting endangering state security in with graft and bribery, endangering national defense, dereliction of duty, and dereliction of military duty. "By grouping endangering state security – the most serious political crime in the criminal law – with five other crimes," Dui Hua’s executive director John Kamm pointed out, "it is virtually impossible to ascertain how many people were indicted for subversion, splittism, and other national security crimes by Chinese prosecutors in 2017."