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China: Vice President of Supreme People’s Court Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

(Mar. 25, 2010) On March 17, 2010, the Hebei Province Higher People's Court affirmed the sentence of life imprisonment of Huang Songyou, former Vice President of China's Supreme People's Court (SPC). Huang was found guilty on January 19, 2010, of taking bribes of RMB3.9 million (about US$574,000) from 2005-2008, during his tenure at the SPC, and of embezzling RMB1.2 million (about US$176,000) of government funds in 1997, while serving as president of a local court in south China. Huang is said to be the highest-ranking judge to be tried and convicted on such charges in China since 1949. (Zhang Jiawei, Supreme Court VP Gets Life for Taking Bribes, CHINA DAILY, Mar. 17, 2010, available at; Life Sentence Upheld for China Supreme Court Judge, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Mar. 17, 2010, available at

According to news reports, Huang was fired and expelled from the Communist Party in August 2010. The official Xinhua News Agency has said he confessed to the charges during the investigation and that most of the bribes and embezzled funds were recovered. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, supra.)

In the first-instance trial held in January 2010, Huang argued that the RMB1.2 million could be deemed a bribe, but not embezzlement. Huang's lawyer also argued that part of the bribes had not actually been transferred to Huang and that some other funds were from friends and therefore should not be considered to be bribes. (Wang Heyan, Huang Songyou Zhongshen Beipan Wuqi Tuxing [Huang Songyou's Final Sentence of Life Imprisonment] [in Chinese], CAIXIN, Mar. 17, 2010, available at

However, none of the defense arguments were upheld by the court. The court held that although Huang voluntarily confessed to acts that had not been found out by the authorities and turned in most of the bribes and embezzled funds, he should still be punished with severity, considering that he, as an SPC justice, deliberately broke the law by trading power for money, which had resulted in “bad social influence.” In the final trial on March 17, Huang himself did not say anything. (Id.)

In delivering his work report to the Third Session of the Eleventh National People's Congress, Wang Shengjun, the President/Chief Justice of the SPC, said the courts at all levels in China should learn a lesson from Huang's case and reflect upon the deep-rooted problems in the administration of judges and the oversight of power. He vowed that the courts will take actions to combat judicial corruption to prevent future abuse of judicial power. (China Vows to Clean Up Judiciary after Conviction of Supreme Court Vice President, XINHUANET, Mar. 11, 2010, available at