Capital cases are most usually heard initially by intermediate-level courts in China. Appeals are heard by provincial-level High People’s Courts - the court of second instance.
Article 14(1) of the ICCPR states: In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal [...]
Principle 1 of the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary states: The independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the state and enshrined in the constitution or the law of the country. It is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.
A trial of first instance held at an Intermediate People’s Court is heard by a collegial panel of three judges, who pass verdict by majority decision based upon evidence and testimonies presented in court. However, it is often the case that a verdict has been approved by a court before a defendant even appears in front of the judges. Each court in China has an adjudication committee, which according to Article 149 of the Criminal Procedure Law is established to decide "[...] difficult, complicated and major cases" which includes cases "[...] when a death sentence may be imposed".(75) Adjudication committees are composed of CCP officials including at least one judge, who sit in private to examine a case file without ever actually hearing statements or meeting defendants or their lawyers. The adjudication committee’s decision on a case is binding on the collegial panel of judges.
Defendants in capital cases are therefore likely to stand trial in a court which has already decided a verdict and possibly even a sentence. This is a probable explanation for the very short duration of trials: it is common for people to be sentenced to death following a trial of first instance lasting no more than one hour.(76) (It should also be repeated in this context that between 1998 and 2002, 99.1% of all trials of first instance ended with a guilty verdict.(77))