The newspaper quoted Zhang Jun, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, as saying that the number of executions will be reined in.

"As it is impossible for the country to abolish capital punishment under current realities and social security conditions, it is an important effort to strictly control the application of the penalty by judicial organs," he said.

"Judicial departments should use the least number of death sentences possible."

The paper said the court has been trying to hand down death sentences only to "those who have committed extremely serious or heinous crimes that lead to grave social consequences".

In January 2007, the Supreme People's Court regained the power of final approval of death penalties, which was devolved to provincial high courts in the 1980s, and promised to apply the ultimate punishment more carefully.