Fri, Jan 16, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Making a mockery of justice

It is commonplace in workplaces and companies around the globe during celebrations for members of staff to perform a play or song poking fun at their superiors for the enjoyment of their colleagues.

It is an entirely different matter when prosecutors involved in the highest-profile and most politically sensitive trial in the nation’s history — the upcoming trial of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — use such an occasion to poke fun at the defendant.

But this was the case on Sunday, when in an apparent “celebration” of Law Day, prosecutors — some of them directly involved in Chen’s case — performed a skit in which a detainee raised her handcuffed hands and shouted “judicial persecution,” openly mocking the former president, much to the amusement of an audience that included senior judges and prosecutors.

All the more perturbing was that the writer of the skit, Taipei’s Chief Prosecutor Ching Chi-jen (慶啟人), who visited Switzerland and Singapore last year as part of the investigation into the allegations of money-laundering against the former first family, seemed to think there was nothing wrong with her behavior.

One might expect State Prosecutor-General Chen Tsung-ming (陳聰明), whose job it is to review the handling of cases and to discipline prosecutors, or Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) would order disciplinary action over such an act, except it appears that Wang was herself a member of the audience.

Wang tried to brush off concerns about the incident at a press conference on Wednesday, dismissing the play as something to “help everybody relax,” adding that “there’s no reason to take it too seriously.”

Already under intense domestic and international scrutiny following the well-documented series of irregularities that have taken place during the investigation and the court proceedings, one might think prosecutors would have more sense than to bring even more unwanted attention to themselves.

But no, the arrogance of these people seems to know no bounds, while professionalism and judicial ethics have apparently gone out of the window.

Even more worrying than this latest sideshow, however, is the continued silence of the Ma administration.

Repeated statements from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) that he “respects the independence of the judiciary” are little comfort when it is clear that increasing numbers of the general public have no faith in it whatsoever.

For a government that appears hyper-sensitive to even the slightest criticism from overseas, the administration’s refusal to take action against such glaring challenges to the independence, impartiality and competence of the judiciary following numerous expressions of concern can only be interpreted as tacit approval of all that has gone on.

Respected Asian law academic and Ma’s mentor during his studies at Harvard University, Jerome Cohen, wrote before this latest episode that recent court proceedings in the former president’s case “have mocked the promise” that Chen will receive a fair trial.

By mocking the former president in such a callous manner, prosecutors have not only vindicated Cohen’s concerns, but also made a mockery of the entire judicial system.

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