Shanghai has pledged to provide free legal aid to all foreigners facing a criminal charge as part of efforts to better protect human rights, according to the city's judicial authorities.
The policy, which took effect on Dec 29, will help better protect the legitimate rights and interests of foreign suspects while ensuring the effective implementation of laws, the Shanghai Bureau of Justice said on Tuesday.
All foreign criminal suspects will be provided with a legal aid lawyer if they don't hire their own attorney, while such lawyers are provided for free only to low-income Chinese offenders.
"Foreign defendants are special as most of them have barriers in language and legal knowledge. In this sense, we give them ample opportunity to defend themselves, assisted by such lawyers, when they may face harsh punishment under criminal charges," said Zhang Ming, deputy director of the Shanghai Legal Aid Center, part of the bureau.
"It is also an effective approach to prevent wrongful convictions," she said.
The practice has been used in some districts since 1997, when the city's legal aid center was established, and now it is in effect citywide.
The center said legal aid was provided to foreigners in 119 criminal cases last year, while such lawyers were used in a total of over 21,300 cases.
Most foreigners involved in criminal cases were from Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, and most prosecutions were for theft, fraud and drug trafficking, Zhang said.
Courts usually send a notice to the district legal aid center to request a legal aid lawyer for a foreign suspect at least 15 days before a court hearing, and the center assigns a lawyer within three days. Courts also provide interpreters.
On Oct 21, 2016, a man from Italy was detained in the theft of four items of clothing and a cap worth a total 6,400 yuan (5) from a shopping mall in Putuo district. He was prosecuted for larceny.
The district legal aid center appointed two lawyers from Shanghai Fuyi Law Firm to work as legal aid lawyers for the Italian, identified as Mark by authorities.
"When we met Mark in the detention facility, he said he had just lost his job, bank card and passport on the day of the theft. He was impulsive and regretted his behavior," said Yu Haoran, one of Mark's lawyers.
He pleaded guilty and received a lenient sentence of six months in prison, a 1,000 yuan fine, and deportation.