Sun, Sep 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Keeping the judiciary honest

President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) comment that 70 percent to 80 percent of members of the judiciary favor the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has triggered a debate between the pan-blue and pan-green camps. It has escalated into a question of whether judges should belong to political parties.

While the figures cited by Chen are unsubstantiated, many would agree based on historical evidence that most judges and prosecutors lean toward the ideology and values of the KMT. However, this is also true of civil servants, public school teachers and so-called government technocrats.

After all, the KMT was in power for decades and most individuals in the groups mentioned above belong to generations indoctrinated with KMT attitudess and beliefs. Many, if not most, are likely members of the KMT.

In light of this situation -- which cannot be changed overnight -- the real issue should be whether judges and prosecutors have been performing their duties impartially.

After all, it is quite a leap to conclude that just because these people are sympathetic to the KMT then their impartiality is impaired.

The ability to remain objective and rational is fundamental to legal training and education. In this regard, to address the problems at the very root, the sanctity of objectivity, rationality and impartiality in the judiciary must be reinforced in the training of judges and prosecutors and at law schools. This will ensure that prosecutors and judges have the ability to remain impartial.

Then there is the question of whether there is a need to instigate external mechanisms to ensure impartiality, that is, whether members of the judiciary should be prevented from joining political parties or be required to renounce their membership upon taking office.

The problem with this is that even if a person resigns from a political party, does that automatically mean he or she will henceforth behave impartially?

From another standpoint, asking members of the judiciary to resign from or at least refrain from holding any positions within a political party during their judicial tenure may reinforce to them the requirement that they remain impartial in performing their duties. However, one must realize that, taken to the extreme, such measures could be deemed interference or a violation of these individuals' right to political affiliation.

The good thing is that the current issue being highlighted by the DPP will most likely ease over the years to come.

After all, the DPP has only been in power for seven years. Now that Taiwan has developed into a genuinely democratic country, it will become normal for leadership to change hands between parties. The political affiliations of members of the judiciary will be increasingly diverse.

Therefore, toughening up the training and discipline of new members of the judiciary to exercise impartiality and to uphold the independence of the judiciary is the real key to the problems at hand.

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