It has been almost 40 years since I obtained my license to practice law. I have fought for democracy and human rights for half my life. The recent conduct of Taiwan’s prosecutors and courts has me deeply worried.
The purpose of the judiciary is to protect human rights and decide what is right and what is wrong, thus serving as the last line of defense for social justice. The process and outcome of a trial should not only convince the parties involved, but also be acceptable to society at large.
The Criminal Code (刑法) clearly details all penalties, while the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) and the Court Organic Act (法院組織法) comprehensively state how prosecutions and trials should proceed. A verdict may be rendered invalid by a tiny procedural flaw. This is called “procedural justice.” Even the worst criminals can only be declared guilty in accordance with strict legal procedures; otherwise, illegal punishment, revenge or trials with predetermined outcomes will prevail.
Take for example some recent controversial cases. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Tainan City Councilor Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) was — in just eight days — indicted for allegedly mobbing a Chinese official, with prosecutors recommending a relatively heavy 14-month jail sentence. In cases involving the alleged misuse of special allowances for government officials, both the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) reported hundreds of officials, but to this day, only five former ministers who are seen as being close to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) have been indicted, and after five months, courts have yet to begin trial proceedings.
In one case, DPP Chiayi County Commissioner Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) was originally released on bail but the decision was overruled after repeated appeals by prosecutors. In another, DPP Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) was detained without a summons, and was only released without bail after staging a hunger strike. Finally, former vice premier Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) was detained for 50 days but the court was in session only three times during that period. All these cases have led to serious questions about double standards in investigative and legal applications and show the KMT government’s disregard for human rights.
As for the alleged corruption cases involving former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Judge Chou Chan-chun (周占春) released Chen without bail, but the court decided to combine his cases with the ongoing investigation into Chen’s handling of his state affairs fund, a case presided over by Judge Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓). This effectively transferred the power to decide whether to detain the former president to Tsai. Regardless of Tsai’s decision, the move has damaged the credibility of the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office and the Taipei District Court.
Since the court originally granted the prosecutors’ request to detain Chen for two months — a period that can be extended once, thus giving prosecutors four months — they had ample time to look into the matter thoroughly. Instead the SIP rushed to indict Chen in less than a month and filed the cases in court. After the court released him without bail, prosecutors filed repeated appeals to have the release revoked. This haste reminds us of the joint press conference in mid-September when all eight SIP prosecutors pledged to resign if they failed to complete the investigation by the end of last year.