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Rule sealing juvenile records may be revised

China Daily

China's top prosecuting authority said it is looking into revising a regulation that limits access to juvenile criminal records, a move that many attorneys have called for.

According to Han Yaoyuan, director of legal policy research for the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the authority is aware of the difficulties in enforcing the rules and is collecting suggestions.

Han met with judicial professionals and insiders at a seminar last week, but he did not say when the amendment could be completed.

If it happens, legal experts say it could pave the way to changing a similar article in the Criminal Procedure Law that has caused confusion due to nonspecific language.

The debate focuses on rules about sealing the criminal records of minors, which came into effect with the revised Criminal Procedure Law on Jan 1. Many prosecutors have complained that they were confused about how to carry it out.

Under the original law, the criminal records of people under 18 can be sealed if the sentence is less than five years. The article aims to better protect juveniles' rights, but it does not clearly define the legal organs or related departments that can access the files, said Zheng Ruizhi, a prosecutor in Beijing's Dongcheng district.

In broad terms, legal organs are police, courts, prosecuting authorities, prisons, customs and correction centers, and related departments include government administration and enterprises, he said.

"In other words, almost every department has the right to a person's criminal record if they can provide a reason," he said, which is contrary to the original intent.

Chen Yunhong, Zheng's colleague, also said the reasons for looking up the records should not be loosened too much or else the article is useless.

He suggested courts be authorized to decide whether other departments or organs have the right to see youngsters' criminal records, saying the enquiry must also be based on these authorities' applicants.

For Yao Jianlong, a professor specializing in criminal justice at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, problems also lie with the fact that the rules allow the sealing of criminal records based on the juvenile offenders' sentence.

About 80 percent of minors receive sentences of less than five years, he said, citing a survey by the university, "but the article does not apply to all of them".

In the United States, minors who commit violent crimes, such as rape or murder, will not have such crimes struck from their records because such offenders pose great danger to the public, he added.

Lin Wei, a professor at China Youth University for Political Sciences, said legislators should take public security into consideration.

"The public has a right to know what kind of people are living around them," he said.

Lin also called for punishment for those who release a young offender's case, be they police officers, prosecutors, judges, community correction workers or school employees.

The article seals a minor's criminal record instead of erasing it, which causes many young people to face job restrictions, said Guo Jie, a judge for Sanming, Fujian province.