On Thursday, the Council of Grand Justices issued a temporary injunction against the government's compulsory collection of fingerprints when people receive new national ID cards starting on July 1.
The move is significant for at least two reasons. First, it is the first time that the council has issued a temporary injunction. Secondly, many interpret this move as a precursor to a formal ruling by the council against the constitutionality of Article 8 of the Household Registration Law, which is the legal basis of the measure.
It is noteworthy that although it was through the ruling on the 319 Shooting Truth Investigation Special Committee Statute that the council declared its power and authority to issue injunctive reliefs, the council did not issue such a relief until Thursday.
The temporary injunction is a type of judicial procedure intended to prevent harm from occurring, as opposed to providing relief after the damage has occurred, by ordering the suspension of a certain action until a final verdict is delivered.
Because of the potential harm that may be suffered by the party against whom the injunction is issued, the thresholds for issuance are typically very high. For example, if an injunction is issued allowing a manufacturer to continue production of allegedly pirated goods, but later a verdict was entered favoring the defendant, the losses suffered by the manufacturer would be enormous.
So, under the circumstances, the only justification for imposing a relief is when the potential harm from allowing the allegedly wrongful act to continue while the trial is being conducted is far greater and when there is no other way to prevent harm.
The reason cited by the council in this case is that if the compulsory collection of fingerprints is allowed to proceed before a formal ruling on the constitutionality of the issue is handed down, then if an unconstitutionality ruling is entered, the amount of government resources invested would have been far too great.
Furthermore, because of the high threshold for preliminary injunctive relief, its issuance also suggests the court's inclination to enter a verdict against the defendant. For this reason, in some other countries, many defendants will go ahead and settle with the plaintiff as soon as a temporary injunction is entered.
In reaching the decision to issue an injunction, the grand justices reportedly went through an extended debate amongst themselves. That should not be a surprise to anyone. The controversies and debates over Article 8 of the Household Registration Law have never ceased since the article's enactment in 1997. For the past eight years, the Ministry of the Interior has never officially implemented the measure, despite the Control Yuan having repeatedly censured relevant government units.
When the ministry finally received the go-ahead from the Executive Yuan to begin implementation, the executive itself in April proposed an amendment to the Household Registration Law to remove the provision on compulsory fingerprint collection. Unable to pass the legislative amendment in time, since the Legislative Yuan hardly does any real work these days, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) petitioned for a ruling by the council on the constitutionality of the provision.
On the one hand, opponents of the measure argue that it is an infringement of citizens' privacy and human rights to compel them to submit to fingerprinting in this way.