China will expand a pilot project nationwide this year to ensure all criminal cases to have defense lawyers, said a report on Friday's China Daily.
The project will assign criminal defense lawyers to represent defendants in criminal cases who do not have lawyers to protect their human rights, said Zhou Yuansheng, director of the Department of Directing Lawyers and Notarization with the Ministry of Justice, the newspaper said.
In October, the Supreme People's Court and the ministry decided to conduct the pilot program for all criminal defense cases in eight provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Henan and Guangdong.
"We will expand the program across the country this year, after summing up successful experiences from the pilot programs," said Zhou, adding that after the new measures are in place, there will be an estimated increase of 400,000 criminal defense cases each year.
Data provided by the ministry show that since October, courts in Zhejiang's Hangzhou, Ningbo and Wenzhou have accepted a total of 2,007 free legal aid cases, including 733 criminal defendants who were assigned lawyers providing free legal services, accounting for 36.52 percent, according to the newspaper.
"Providing a full criminal defense to accused people -- a major incentive to promote judicial reform -- has played an essential role in safeguarding the suspects' legitimate rights and effectively avoids miscarriages of justice," Zhou said.
The newspaper said, citing Zhou, that the pilot areas should improve support systems and adopt effective measures to protect legitimate rights of criminal defense lawyers, while standardizing their professional behavior.