The Zichuan District Court in east China's Shandong province has installed programmes on judges' computers that provide advice on the proper verdicts in criminal cases, the state-run China Daily reported.

The move appears to be aimed at ensuring standardised decisions and addressing common complaints that China's judges are ill-trained, corrupt and make arbitrary rulings.

"We aim to establish a regular sentence pattern for criminal trials to avoid different penalties for the same crimes," said Wang Hongmei, chief judge at the court.

Many judges in China have not received a college education and lack sufficient training in law, although the government has made efforts in recent years to raise the professional standard.

In the Shandong experiment, judges simply enter the relevant details of the crimes plus mitigating circumstances - and the programme immediately comes up with an appropriate verdict, according to the paper.

But the penalty calculator will not have the final say. Judges will retain the power to hand down their own sentences, depending on circumstances they deem particular to a case.