Recently, the Judicial Yuan has run large advertisements in the press to show its strong determination to push for judicial reform. The ads have received much public attention and they are an encouraging sign.
On July 6 last year, the Judges Act (法官法) was enacted, putting in place clear regulations about the employment, protection, evaluation and dismissal of judges and prosecutors. The Judge Evaluation Commission (JEC), initiated by the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday, deals with the dismissal and overall evaluation of individual judges. There is also a judicial disciplinary court scheduled to start operating on July 6 this year, which will review the performance of judges and is empowered to put them on trial or even dismiss them.
According to the Control Yuan’s figures, under the system that was in place from February 1999 until the end of last year, only 10 judicial officers were impeached and subsequently dismissed by the Judicial Yuan’s Public Functionary Disciplinary Sanctions Commission (PFDSC). Among the 10, half were judges and the other half were prosecutors. This falls way short of the public’s expectations.
Will the situation be improved by the Judges Act? Most experts say it is unlikely.
According to the new evaluation system, if one of the parties involved is unsatisfied with the conduct of a judicial official during an investigation or trial, they can file a complaint with the relevant authorities or the Control Yuan. They can also appeal to bar associations and civic groups — such as human rights or judicial reform groups — officially recognized by the Judicial Yuan.
If an investigation reveals that a case is eligible for a full review, an application would then be filed with the JEC, which is responsible for determining whether the judicial official should be punished. If so, the committee would report the case to the Judicial Yuan, which would transfer it to the Control Yuan for an impeachment review. The Control Yuan would then send it back to the Judicial Yuan’s court of judicial discipline for a trial and then the court would decide whether the official should be dismissed or relieved of their responsibilities.
With such a complex system in place, the whole process involves a considerable amount of overlap and duplication, which seems like a waste of social and judicial resources. It could also put the judicial official under review through a lot of unnecessary suffering, not to mention the fact that justice delayed could turn into a case of justice denied.
The public, including lawyers and judicial reform groups, are expecting the implementation of the new system to force all the unpalatable “dinosaur judges” into extinction. However, looking at the controversial ruling in a sexual assault case which triggered the “White Rose” movement, the controversy lay mostly in the appropriateness and applicability of the law. According to the Judges Act, it is not permissible to review rulings for individual cases which rest on an interpretation of the law, and it is certainly not possible to dole out any reprimands or disciplinary action for these.
The media recently reported that a controversial Kaohsiung District Court judge, surnamed Ke (柯), liked to humiliate parties in his court and even their lawyers, with his colorful and often offensive choice of words. Although his behavior was acknowledged to have violated people’s human rights and damaged the reputation of the judiciary, the PFDSC merely suspended him for one year. If the implementation of the act cannot push the judicial disciplinary court to issue tougher punishment, its effectiveness in eliminating poor judges will certainly be questionable.