Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen (侯寬仁) has been found innocent by the Taipei District Court and won an appeal after being sued for forgery by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), but Ma has again appealed — in his own words, for the sake of human rights. While Ma is entitled to appeal, he must take into account the position he now holds and its responsibilities. Unless his appeal is clearly part of an effort to push judicial reform, he risks being accused of pursuing the case against Hou to cover his own mistakes.
Yet whatever the outcome of his appeal, Ma stands to lose. If he wins his appeal, many will accuse the courts of bowing to the Presidential Office. If he loses, he could still be accused of attempting to meddle in the judiciary or of wasting judicial resources to pursue a personal vendetta.
Ma has said he was wronged during the investigation into how he used his special allowance fund while serving as mayor of Taipei. But the president has not proposed that the Ministry of Justice and Judicial Yuan discuss potential legal reforms to prevent similar situations in the future.
Ma was never detained during the investigation into his case, which has led some to question the decision to detain former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Ma seems concerned only with the outcome of his own case and not whether others are being mistreated by the judiciary, let alone with concerns that judicial independence and human rights in Taiwan have taken a beating in the past year. Yet these problems have caught the attention of law professor Jerome Cohen, who taught Ma at Harvard University. Cohen has written a number of articles calling on the government to pay attention to reform, but Ma has ignored his advice.
During the first year of Ma’s presidency, Taiwan has struggled with the impact of the global financial crisis. The government has been occupied with bolstering the economy and navigating the treacherous waters of cross-strait relations. Judicial reform is not on the agenda.
It remains unclear what Ma intends to do about the many aspects of the judicial system that are in need of reform.
When former Judicial Yuan president Weng Yueh-sheng (翁岳生) took office in 1999, he convened a national judicial reform conference that drew up a number of proposals, only some of which were implemented. Nor has Weng’s successor, Lai In-jaw (賴英照), made much progress on that front.
Taiwan’s judicial system is in need of reform, from the investigative process and indictment to the trial and sentencing. One of the major questions on the table is the fate of the stalled death penalty system — and the dozens of prisoners that remain on death row with no sign of sentence commutations in sight.
Ma’s government has signed two major international human rights covenants and promised to implement them, but these treaties will be meaningless if judicial reforms do not materialize.
In focusing on Hou, Ma has missed a chance to show greater concern for the nation’s judiciary.
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