Sat, Jan 17, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Still another blow to justice

Fresh from his contemptible showing at The Heritage Foundation late last year, big-noting Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) has proven, once again, that Taiwan’s judicial system is unraveling, step by step, piece by piece.

Every week — literally — there have been developments indicating that whatever judicial integrity came to pass during the presidencies of Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is now subject to a process of politicization, manipulation and regression. Even the pro-KMT press has stopped in its tracks, regularly airing expert opinion that asks whether things are out of control.

The question now appears not to be if the judiciary’s credibility will collapse altogether, but when and how.

Yesterday we said that Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) acted utterly inappropriately in condoning the actions of prosecutors who mocked Chen during an asinine and prejudicial skit celebrating Law Day.

Compounding this extraordinary situation, last week saw the introduction of draft legislation that would allow the formation of investigative legislative panels with powers that would injure the credibility of the judiciary even further and weaken or dissolve the crucial barriers that separate the powers of the state.

Hsieh is the head of the legislature’s committee that deals with judicial matters — and which contains members who threaten dissenting judges with legal action. Unlike in countries where such positions require expertise and gravitas, Taiwan seems to specialize in filling these posts with party hacks of the lowest conceivable caliber. These politicians’ role is not to defend the integrity of the system, but to usurp it and exploit its weaknesses for the benefit of party benefactors.

There is no other explanation for how Hsieh can escape censure and punishment for his prejudicial comments, for example, on the Chen trial during his Heritage Foundation talk.

The legislation that Hsieh’s committee would now introduce is so destabilizing, wide-ranging and risible that even the KMT-controlled Cabinet, the Judicial Yuan and the Control Yuan have expressed reservations at the direction this legislature of goons is taking.

The KMT legislative caucus wants to be able to compel public servants to submit to its probes regardless of their motivation, appropriateness or whether existing channels of investigation and punishment would be displaced or interfered with in the process. The bill is an expanded rehash of that which allowed the legislature to “investigate” Chen’s shooting in 2004, and which was rightly declared unconstitutional.

It is essential that this predatory piece of draft legislation be opposed at every turn. But if it passes a third reading, its constitutionality must then be tested in an appeal to the Council of Grand Justices. As crusty and as unpredictable as the council can be, even it should be able to understand the ramifications of institutionalizing legislative Star Chambers that would intimidate and shackle public servants who don’t toe the line of the majority party.

Notwithstanding the muted concerns of sources at the Ministry of Justice, the only other conclusion — a sad and nerve-racking conclusion — that can be reached is that Minister Wang, with all of her conflicts of interest, evasions, sophomoric word games and Neroic fiddling, retains her post because her ethereal leadership is precisely what is required at this time.

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