Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ruling on 319 Statute the right one

The Constitutional Court's ruling on the constitutionality of the 319 Shooting Truth Investigation Special Committee Statute (三一九槍擊事件真調會條例) late yesterday afternoon could not have come at a better time -- right after the legislative elections so as to avoid it influencing the outcome of the poll, and also at a time when the pan blue camp has managed to barely hang on to its legislative majority.

It is not a far stretch to say that had the ruling been out just a couple of days before Dec. 11, the outcome of the extremely close legislative election race might have turned out different. This is, of course, all for the better, since now there is no reason for the pan-blue camp to accuse the Constitutional Court of succumbing to political pressure.

While the court's ruling did not find the 319 Statute illegal per se, it did find many, if not all, of the powers vested in the Truth Committee to be unconstitutional. In fact, it is probably fair to say the sting has been rightfully taken out of the Truth Committee, putting the power to investigate the March 19 shooting back into the hands of police and prosecutors -- a practice spelled out in the Constitution.

Of the provisions ruled to be unconstitutional, especially noteworthy are Articles 8 and 13, under which the Truth Committee was given not only the power of prosecutors but also an exclusive jurisdiction over the investigation. In fact, according to the said statute, prosecutors can only prosecute criminals under the direction of the Truth Committee.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that the court found these provisions unconstitutional, as because they violated checks and balances on government powers -- particularly against the legislative branch -- since the power to investigate and prosecute criminal activity falls under the jurisdiction of the judicial branch.

Under the circumstances, it is indeed ironic that the Truth Committee on Monday issued a press release demanding that police hand over the investigation into the March 19 shooting based on Article 8 of the 319 Statute. Since it is not a secret that some members of the Truth Committee had long admitted the constitutional "flaw" of the article, one cannot help but wonder what could possibly be on the minds of the committee members in demanding to exercise an unconstitutional vested power. It is especially unforgivable given that the committee is supposedly comprised of members of the legal profession.

The court also found Article 13 of the Truth Committee Statute unconstitutional on the grounds that facts gathered by the Truth Committee may differ from those brought to the attention of the courts, and thus be grounds for a retrial should anyone be charged under the 319 Statute.

According to the Constitutional Court, its finding was based on the principle of equal protection of the law and that the committee's power exceeds the scope of legislature's investigative powers. Actually, a better way to put it is that the provision flat-out tramples on the power of the judiciary. It would be unthinkable if the Constitutional Court actually accepted such an incursion on judicial power.

In a nutshell, as pointed out by the Constitutional Court, no one denies that the Legislative Yuan has some measure of investigative power, but it should be limited. While the ruling does offer some insight on the nature of such powers, it failed to define their limitations -- which should come in handy in the backdrop of a continued pan blue legislative majority.

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