In terms of judicial news last year, most reports focused on the lawsuit filed by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) against the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in September.
The Council of Grand Justices once contributed greatly to the process of democratization. However, while some question whether President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) crossed the line in the political struggle with Wang, if the public cares about Taiwan’s democratic development, it should not overlook what these grand justices are doing now. How have they played the roles of guardians of the Constitution in recent years?
There are 15 grand justices, all of whom are responsible for the task of interpreting the constitution. However, the Council of Grand Justices only made nine interpretations last year — from Constitutional Interpretations No. 708 to No. 716 — compared with the average of 16 interpretations every year between 2002 and 2011 and 12 interpretations in 2012. It does appear that the justices were less productive last year.
This fact seems to have been lost on the media, perhaps because the news was not sensational enough, or because the media have little constitutional awareness. According to the Judicial Yuan’s monthly figures, about 60 to 70 petitions are still pending at every session for deliberation.
In South Korea, the Constitutional Court makes an average of 150 rulings every year, and the quality of the rulings is certainly not inferior to that of Taiwan’s constitutional interpretations. Taiwan’s grand justices dismiss about 300 to 400 petitions annually. In response to the figures, they should at least come up with a convincing explanation.
Despite the low number of the constitutional interpretations, the justices made several interpretations on tax affairs not long ago.
At one point, some started to wonder when the Council of Grand Justices responsible for making constitutional interpretations suddenly morphed into a tax court, although the phenomenon does seem to have stopped for now. Will such a strategic selection of petitions reappear in the future? This is something that the public should keep an eye on.
Meanwhile, waiting for the justices to make a constitutional interpretation is generally a long, painful and frustrating experience.
For example, three petitions regarding the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) have attracted much attention from social activists. One of the petitions was filed by Taipei District Court Judge Chen Ssu-fan (陳思帆), who asked for a constitutional interpretation in September 2010. It took the council more than 1,000 days before it accepted the petition after it was screened by three grand justices. So far, the public has been waiting for more than 1,200 days for a decision.
It is extremely difficult to get any information on the deliberation process about specific petitions and it is not transparent, so it is hard to be able to predict the results. This should not be the case in a democratic country.
When the grand justices dismiss a petition, they often argue that a petitioner has claimed that a law is unconstitutional based on their subjective view and that it is difficult to objectively point out how a law used to arrive at a verdict or judgement conflicts with the Constitution. They seem to be most effective when it comes to dismissing petitions, but this highlights the absurdity of a closed-door deliberation process.