BEIJING - China's ruling Communist Party on Tuesday reaffirmed its supremacy over the legal system, as it announced measures to centralise power and combat corruption following a highly-anticipated meeting.
The party closely controls China's parliament, military, police, prosecution and court systems, and anger at widespread injustice has emerged as an increasing problem for it.
The principle of upholding the party's leadership "must be adhered to" when implementing the rule of law, the party said in a 16,000-character statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency.
It was listed above equality before the law and upholding the rule of law in the document, which followed the Fourth Plenum meeting of the party's Central Committee.
Party leader Xi Jinping, in a commentary issued by Xinhua alongside the decision, said it "made it clear that adhering to the party's leadership is a fundamental requirement of socialist rule of law".
Official media also announced that a top retired general ensnared in Xi's anti-corruption drive had admitted taking "extremely huge" bribes in return for army promotions.
But there was no word on the fate of Zhou Yongkang, the powerful former security chief whose investigation was announced in July.
Police in China often extort confessions with violence, while local officials routinely decide the verdicts of court cases in advance, sometimes because of bribes or political pressure.
Several rights lawyers have themselves been detained in recent months.
Xi said the country was "troubled by unfair trials and corrupt judges", adding that "some even go two ways by draining both the defendant and the plaintiff".
Xinhua cited the Central Committee as saying: "Officials who intervene in law enforcement will... face criminal charges if their conduct causes serious problems such as wrongful convictions."
The party will strengthen safeguards against "extorting confession by torture and illegal collection of evidence", it said.
Analysts say such measures could reduce the frequency of unjust verdicts, but they are unlikely to apply in politically sensitive cases such as the prosecution of dissidents or former officials.
"They may continue to encourage the rule of law, but how much can they really do when the party is ultimately in control?" asked Jane Duckett, a professor of political science at the University of Glasgow.
"I can't see the Communist Party giving up the prerogative to have the final say in politically sensitive cases."
Xu Caihou, formerly China's second-highest ranking officer as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, "was found taking advantage of his position to assist the promotion of other people", Xinhua said Tuesday, citing military prosecutors.
It said he had been discharged from the military and his rank of general was "revoked".
Xu, who was until 2012 a member of the Communist Party's elite 25-strong Politburo, is the first of its former members to fall in Xi's crackdown.
But the lengthy Fourth Plenum document made no mention of Zhou, the most senior Communist Party member to be investigated since the infamous Gang of Four were put on trial in 1980.
The absence of news on his fate may indicate divisions at the top of the party.
The party document announced efforts to strip local governments of powers to pass legislation for their areas, and to step up corruption investigations, with a wider range of assets to be considered as potentially ill-gotten.
Official graft causes widespread public anger. Since taking office Xi has sought to present himself as a crusader against the scourge.
"Any major institutional or policy adjustments must be reported to the Party's Central Committee for discussion before a decision is made," Xinhua quoted the Central Committee as saying.
Authorities should not "make decisions with no legal basis", it added.
"(We will) accelerate the national legislation on the fight against corruption... and set up an effective mechanism so that government officials dare not, cannot and do not want to go corrupt," it said without providing details.
The ruling party had portrayed the conclave last week as a pivotal moment for reform of the legal system, and said its theme would be "rule of law".
But experts caution that in China the phrase refers to a greater centralisation of control by the ruling party rather than the separation of powers and primacy of law over politics characteristic of Western countries.
"They have made it clear that the Chinese legal system operates under a different set of concepts and under different values and principles," Flora Sapio, an expert on Chinese law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.