Political meddling in the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) took a bold turn on Monday, when a judge who had expressed concerns about procedural flaws was targeted in the legislature.
At a meeting of the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, lawmakers gave the Judicial Yuan one month to carry out an investigation into Shilin District Court Judge Hung Ying-hua (洪英花) and to report back to the legislature on the matter.
The request came after Hung authored a newspaper editorial finding fault with the replacement of Chou Chan-chun (周占春) with Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓) as presiding judge in the case against Chen at the Taipei District Court.
In an earlier editorial, Hung had also criticized the actions of the Ministry of Justice in connection with the Chen case, but her latest statement — which Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators called “audacious” — seems to have pushed the envelope too far.
KMT Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) unsurprisingly spearheaded the attack against Hung. Pressure from Chiu may also have played a role in the removal of Chou, whom he said should be impeached for releasing Chen earlier.
Chiu said that Hung’s criticism of Tsai was nothing more than a personal vendetta against a judge who had presided over a case that saw Hung’s brother convicted of fraud. He further cast doubt on Hung’s integrity as a judge by saying that her brother, as well as another brother he said had been convicted in a crooked business deal, had used his link to Hung to solicit kickbacks.
The claims Chiu made against Hung are severe indeed, and should they prove to be false or misleading, Chiu — who has a penchant for casting unfounded aspersions — should be held responsible for again indulging in his favorite pastime.
The KMT, meanwhile, must take a clear stand against the tactics employed by Chiu and the committee, which is dominated by its lawmakers. The party has repeatedly professed its resolve to deepen the nation’s democracy, which includes upholding the impartiality of the judiciary.
This latest example of political pressure in the Chen case is sure to send a signal to other critical voices in the judiciary. With legislators like Chiu threatening uncooperative or skeptical judges with judicial investigations and impeachment, concerned judges, lawyers and prosecutors may think twice before daring to question judicial integrity.
That would be bad news for the judicial system, which must be able to bear scrutiny from within and without and come out unscathed — particularly in this most politically charged of cases.
The KMT must stop its lawmakers from taking or threatening action against the judges — and lawyers — in the cases involving the former first family, or risk leaving its marks throughout the proceedings. If Chen is guilty, only a fair trial free of partisan pressure will ensure that his crime can be punished without the stain of political vendetta.
Indeed, the questionable actions of KMT lawmakers and the Ministry of Justice, which has turned a blind eye to apparent leaks of information by prosecutors, may have already crossed a threshold, ensuring that any conviction of Chen or his family members will lack credibility.