A specific punishment was assigned for every offence. The criminal justice system was operated by administrative officials and the task of the magistrate was to identify the proper name of the offence disclosed by the facts.
Suspects and criminals were arrested by the county police or the posthouse chiefs who were subordinate to the county chief of police and brought before the local magistrates. The local magistrates were fully authorized to apply the full range of possible punishments even the death penalty.
All cases regardless of their gravity, were heard in the court of the district where the crime was committed. The magistrate investigated facts first before determining guilt or innocence and then meted out the sentence for the offence in accordance with the code. In the book Yuan Drama, a story is told of the execution of Chen Shimei where Judge Bao, a famous judge, ruled in the matter against the royal official. The official had forsaken his wife and family. When his family tried to look for him, he sent a servant to secretly kill them. However, judge Bao did not relent to the immense pressure from the imperial family and proceeded with the execution.
One vital principle of Chinese law was that a person could not be convicted of a crime without a confession .In cases where the sentence was bigger than a beating, the case was forwarded to the next superior court for appeal. In cases of penal servitude, the prefect’s decision was final. Cases of exile or death were automatically reviewed by the provincial governor. All homicide cases and all cases attracting the death sentence were sent to the capital for review by the highest judicial tribunal, the Board of Punishments. A sentence of death could not be executed without the emperor’s approval, except in extreme circumstance (Cheng 23).
The magistrates were administrated by the code and sub statutes. Sub statutes were more specific and more detailed