A constant criticism of Taiwan's bench is the youth and inexperience of the judges. The root of the problem is the selection process.
The Judicial Yuan has recently developed a new method of selecting Taiwan's trial judges. This new method is a vast improvement on the old method and deserves public support.
Under the old system of judicial selection, students who had graduated from university undergraduate law departments were eligible to sit for the Judges and Prosecutors Examination. If they passed, they could go on to the Judges and Prosecutors Training Institute for a one-and-a-half-year program. During the course of their training some, through a fairly arcane process, are selected to serve as judges, and some as prosecutors.
This exclusive reliance on paper-and-pencil test scores will be replaced by an approach under which judges will be selected from practicing attorneys and prosecutors.
A judicial appointments committee in the Judicial Yuan will make the selection. The exact criteria and procedures to be used have yet to be finally determined.
Not all judges selected under the old system were unsuitable. Taiwan is blessed with many outstanding trial judges, many of whom are relatively young. Age does not equal wisdom. I have had the honor of meeting and teaching many members of Taiwan's bench that are fine, knowledgeable, ethical and fair judges.
Nevertheless, it is clear the new method will enjoy a major advantage that may in the long run improve the quality of Taiwan's bench. Selecting from candidates who are already legal professionals makes selection based on a wider range of qualities possible.
Practicing attorneys and prosecutors have developed, for better or worse, professional qualities and professional reputations that can be appraised by a selection committee. Under the old system, most potential judges had neither work history nor ethical habits to appraise.
The old system is based almost exclusively on the potential judge's ability to memorize rules and spew them back on a test paper. It did not attempt to appraise any other aspect of the potential judge's suitability, such as the candidate's interpersonal skills, ability to handle witnesses and practical administrative skills. The new system will, it is hoped, take into account these other judicial skills.
While offering this major advantage over the old selection system, the new system does have potential pitfalls. The most obvious is that personal politics, the bane of many aspects of Taiwanese society, will start to influence the Judicial Yuan's judicial selection committee.
Nevertheless, the advantages of the new system outweigh this potential danger.
Brian Kennedy is an attorney who writes and teaches on criminal justice and human-rights issues.