Wed, Jan 22, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Balancing human rights with true justice

By Yang Yung-Nane 楊永年

The overturning of the convictions of the Hsichih Trio was immediately hailed by human- rights groups. It is worth considering why the evidence was insufficient in this murder case. Was it because of poor gathering of evidence or poor investigative work by police or prosecutors? Or was there simply a lack of coordination between the latter?

Few are willing to discuss the problems affecting the criminal justice system. It seems that, intimidated by the formidable banner of human rights, no one dares to raise these problems. Similarly, any dissent on human rights is regarded as disrespect for those rights. I am not opposed to protecting the rights of suspects, but measures for ensuring victims' rights should also be drawn up. Only then will we have a perfect system.

I admire the moral courage shown by the judges in rendering a decisive verdict of not guilty in this high-profile case. The euphoria of the human-rights groups notwithstanding, however, I find that the criminal justice system's function of pursuing "social justice" has made little progress despite the efforts of these groups.

Moreover, many legal measures and much criminal justice policy in recent years has ignored the predicaments facing prosecutors and police officers. Each legal reform, in fact, has sown distrust in these officers of the law, to the extent of weakening the criminal justice system's very function -- the upholding of justice. Here are two examples.

First, since the right to conduct searches was given to the courts, police searches have dramatically decreased in terms of both quality and quantity. The legislature's decision to deprive prosecutors of the right was initially aimed at preventing abuses of power. It turns out that, in a drive to curtail their right to search, this powerful weapon ends up being forcibly snatched away from prosecutors and the police.

Second, the Council of Grand Justices' Constitutional Interpretation No. 535 -- ruling that police officers may not conduct random checks or searches -- shocked both society and the police. Even though the interpretation was well-intentioned, extensive media coverage, combined with the police's failure to respond in a timely manner, misled both police officers and society at large into believing that the interpretation meant that the police should not conduct raids.

In the week after the ruling, many police officers avoided conducting spot checks and raids. Similarly, many drunk drivers also refused to undergo tests at roadside checks. During that week, accidents caused by drunken driving multiplied as a result. Does this qualify as protection of human rights?

Legal reforms based on human rights should not be car-ried out at the expense of social justice. In line with this principle, I believe that the legislature has moved in the right direction by incorporating the presumption of innocence in its amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法). But supplementary measures must also be introduced to enable judicial bodies to bolster social justice. This is the essence of human rights.

It is encouraging that Taiwan has made a giant step forward in human rights over the past decade. It is unfortunate, however, that this has been achieved by weakening the entire criminal justice system.

Human rights and social justice should be complementary, not contradictory, ideas. Human rights should not be so narrowly defined that they protect only suspects, not the victims. This is what a "human rights govern-ment" needs to keep in mind. Human rights and social justice should be guided by the public interest.

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