China's top court has directed all subordinate courts in the country to shun evidence collected through torture, state media reported on Thursday, indicating that it was part of broader judicial reforms promised in the recently concluded Communist Party of China (CPC) plenum.
In a document released by the Supreme People's Court (SPC) on Thursday, the top judicial organ said more attention should be focused on collecting and examining material evidence.
The announcement comes about a week after the conclusion of the crucial Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC.
A document released after the meeting said the country would strengthen protection of human rights.
On Thursday, the SPC document, as quoted by state media, said: "…illegal evidence and a defendant's testimony obtained through torture or other illegal methods such as forcing the accused to suffer from extreme temperatures, hunger and fatigue must be ruled out."
The SPC document focused on setting up and improving a mechanism to prevent wrong judgments in criminal cases.
"Evidence must be valued. The traditional concept and practice of a testimony being the most paramount should be changed. More attention should be paid to examining and using material evidence," the document said.
Confessions by suspects are accepted in Chinese courts but, according to critics, serious questions remain on the methods of extracting information.
In China, courts are part of the massive organisation of the CPC and therefore not assumed to be part of a judiciary that is independent.
The justice system is opaque and trials are conducted swiftly – high-profile cases like that of ousted politician Bo Xilai and his wife, Gu Kailai's were dispensed within days and hours. In most such cases, the guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion.
The Plenum document released late last week said China will improve the human rights guarantee system, strictly follow the exclusionary rules in criminal proceedings and gradually reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.
Rights groups and critics have long petitioned the Chinese government to make its judicial system more transparent.
Whether the new directive can bring about transparency and helps to protect the suspects' human rights remain to be seen.