Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Judicial reform is needed to stop abuses

By Lin Feng-jeng 林峰正

On the morning of June 27, former minister of justice Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) appeared at Chinan Church in Taipei City for a press conference organized by the Humanistic Education Foundation, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and the Judicial Reform Foundation in support of the Hsichih Trio -- the accused murderers who have been maltreated by the judicial system for 16 years now. During the press conference Ma voiced his support for the three men, Su Chien-ho (蘇建和), Liu Bing-lang (劉秉郎) and Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳). Two days later, the three were sentenced to death by the High Court, mainly based on induced confessions and dubious forensic evidence.

Media reports have recently said that the transcript of a witness deposition in Ma's trial is suspected of being different from the recording. Ma's lawyer requested that the recording be compared with the written statement, and accused public prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen (寬仁), who was responsible for the investigation, of doctoring the transcript. The courts will decide whether this is really the case.

The Hsichih Trio's lawyer had similar complaints about his clients' case.

He said that when Su was first interviewed by prosecutor Tsui Chih-chen (崔紀鎮) he denied the crime, but that this was omitted in the transcript. He also said that Tsui clearly misled Liu during his interview, but this cannot be seen at all in the transcription. Only when the recording was played for the court did the truth come out. A Taiwan Public Television reporter produced a special report on it.

This was the treatment the Hsichih Trio received 16 years ago and, if the accusations are true, Ma has been treated no less shabbily. How Ma's lawyers deal with the investigative flaws uncovered during the trial is not important. What matters is whether people should be looking at the human rights questions raised during investigations. If everyone, from humble residents in Hsichih to former ministers of justice, are dealt with in this way, would anybody be lucky enough to escape such treatment? Do we want this kind of "fairness"?

To eliminate forced confessions, Article 27 of the Criminal Procedure Code (刑事訴訟法) was amended after the famous case of Wang Ying-hsien (王迎先), who was tortured by police to confess to robbing a bank in 1982. This amendment allowed defendants to have a lawyer present during questioning in criminal cases.

After the legal world reflected on the problems of improper interrogation techniques revealed by the Hsichih Trio case, the code was amended again in 1997 to require that the entire process of questioning defendants be recorded and filmed. Still, this amendment appears to have failed to completely eliminate illegal interrogation.

It's time to take another look at judicial reform. The prosecutorial system wields great power, yet scandals still occur. Not only should we begin to consider reining in that power, we should also propose making it mandatory for lawyers to be present when prosecutors question suspects. Failing that, prosecutors who violate defendant's rights should be jailed.

If we continue to permit these rights violations, one day it could be you or me who is the victim. After all, the law is "fair" in this way. Meanwhile, we must also call on the courts to thoroughly investigate these accusations so that the innocent are exonerated and the guilty are caught. If prosecutors have been falsely accused, of course they should be cleared. But if the accusations are true, then they owe society an explanation.

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