(CNN) -- The use of lethal injection will be expanded in China to replace execution by shooting, a senior legal official said in an interview with a government-owned Chinese newspaper.
Police parade prisoners during an execution rally at a stadium in Kunming, Yunnan province.
The practice of lethal injections will be expanded to cover all the country's intermediate people's courts because it was considered "more humane", Jiang Xingchang, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court told the English-language newspaper China Daily.
Currently around half of all the people's courts carry out executions by lethal injection, Xingchang told the paper.
Although it does not release official statistics of its executions, China is believed to execute more people than any other country, according to human rights groups.
Based on available public reports, Amnesty International estimated that in 2006 China executed at least 1,010 people -- around 60 percent of all executions across the world.
However, the group said that credible sources had put the figure at much higher -- between 7,500 and 8,000.
During the same period there were 53 executions in the United States.
Xingchang told the paper lethal injections were favored by the families of death row inmates over China's other method of execution, which involves prisoners being shot in the back of the head.
He gave no timetable for the shift to lethal injections, which were first introduced as a method of execution in China in 1997.
However, he said toxins required for injections, now held centrally in Beijing, would be rolled out under strict supervision to local courts to help speed up the process, the paper reported.
China has attempted to reform its capital punishment system following reports in 2005 of executions of wrongly convicted people, and criticism that lower courts arbitrarily impose the death sentence.
An amendment to China's capital punishment law, enacted in November 2005, restored to the Supreme People's Court the sole right to approve all death sentences, ending a 23-year-old practice of allowing provincial courts alone to sign off on executions.
In a separate interview with China Daily, Xiao Yang, the country's chief justice said the Chinese authorities were keen to limit the use of capital punishment in the future.
It should be applied only to "an extremely small number" of serious offenders, the paper reported Yang as saying. E-mail to a friend
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