Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Cases reveal cracks in the system

By Chiu Yu-bin 邱毓斌

On June 29, the Taiwan High Court reinstated the death sentence for the "Hsichih Trio," a decision that without a doubt will mean that this case, which has been called a decision by an uncivilized state by Amnesty International, will continue to torture all parties involved as well as those who care about judicial reform.

If we compare this to another ongoing case, the preservation of the Losheng Sanatorium, these two cases reveal a message: The credibility of the political system may be gradually collapsing due to the self-centered approach of some of the people in charge. Although everything appears to be legal, those in charge are incapable of responding to society's needs and may lose the public's trust in and expectations for the system.

One of the main purposes of establishing government organizations and a judicial system is to prevent social conflicts from escalating and to keep society stable.

The difference between democratic and authoritarian societies lies in how these laws and policies are created and implemented. According to theory, the more democratic a society is, the greater the chance for a rational system. But in reality, as the above two cases show, the political system in its wider sense, including the judiciary, cannot make up for the cracks and instead cause social division.

In mid-April, then-premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) promised the Losheng Sanatorium that the Cabinet's Public Construction Commission would propose a new plan based on the premises of upholding human rights and not delaying the launch of a new MRT line which will go through the sanatorium premises. Unfortunately, the commission seems to care only about the "no delay" premise.

Although several buildings inside the sanatorium will be kept under the new plan, some of the most important historical sites will not escape demolition, all sanatorium residents will have to be relocated for the six-year duration of the construction, and both the commission and the Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation have completely ignored warnings from some engineers regarding ground water and soft soil at the site.

The "Hsichih Trio" case displays a frighteningly similar logic. After the Supreme Court rebutted the Taiwan High Court's 2003 acquittal, the Taiwan High Court allowed forensic expert Henry Lee (李昌鈺) to testify, raising hopes that the court was finally willing to face the problem arising from the weak evidence gathered at the crime scene 16 years ago when in fact judges were trying to find a way to disprove the not guilty plea. The result was that despite rejecting the rape charge and not detaining the defendants, the court maintained the death sentence. The defense team's longstanding doubts regarding the credibility of the defendants' testimony and other so-called evidence were all rejected by the judges.

The executors of these systems have all acted in accordance with the law. So what went wrong? I think that their mistake was to follow the most conservative path available. They ignored social changes and are not aware of the fact that not everyone wants new MRT lines regardless of the cost, nor do they understand that some people do care about old and weak leprosy patients and historical assets.

Likewise, they don't understand that more and more people know that you cannot convict someone on their confession alone, or that people want a judiciary that assumes innocence and lets the evidence talk. They do not understand that Taiwan is no longer a society that would rather kill an innocent person than let a guilty person go free and that Taiwanese are beginning to have more advanced notions of human rights and the rule of law.

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