Bo 'within his rights to conduct own defence'

Bo 'within his rights to conduct own defence'
Former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai (centre), being driven away from the Jinan court building.

He is the accused, but one could easily have mistaken former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai as a defence lawyer.

Over the past two days, Bo, whose lawyers were in court with him, actively argued his own innocence - shooting down accusations and attacking the credibility of prosecution witnesses, including his wife Gu Kailai. He is on trial in eastern Jinan city on charges of taking bribes, embezzlement and abuse of power.

For instance, he dismissed the testimony of his former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun as "nonsense" and "speculative", and called his wife "insane" and her testimony "fabricated".

In grilling Dalian Shide Group boss Xu Ming - a former close associate - Bo fired a barrage of questions until he got Xu to admit that he did not give bribes to Bo as alleged, thus punching a hole in the prosecution's case.

Bo's spirited self-defence has set many wondering if the Chinese Communist Party and the courts have given the former political star special latitude.

Experienced criminal lawyers told The Straits Times that Bo was merely acting within his rights to defend himself, though they added that it is rare for an accused to be so involved in a trial.

Under China's criminal procedure law, an accused can defend himself and cross-examine witnesses even if his lawyers are in court, said Mr Cao Pengbo from the China Boren law firm in Beijing. "There's no need for the accused to discharge his lawyers in court or notify the court in advance that he wishes to defend himself," Mr Cao added.

Another lawyer, Mr Chen Xiaowei from Beijing's Chang'an law firm, said whether an accused decides to defend himself would depend first on his fighting spirit.

"There are also other factors such as his chemistry with and confidence in his lawyers, especially if they are court-appointed and not hired by him," he told The Straits Times.

"Most importantly, the accused must have strong verbal skills and the confidence to spar with prosecutors."

Clearly, taking on the prosecution is not a problem for the 64-year-old princeling, who is well known for his eloquence and confidence.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg


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