Fri, Feb 21, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Prosecutor-general role needs clear standards

By Kao Jung-chih 高榮志

With the next prosecutor-general set to take office in April, a nominee will soon be selected, while in June, new members of the Control Yuan will be appointed. The Presidential Office has set up a task force to make recommendations for the latter and is seeking nominations from all quarters of society.

According to Article 3-1 of the Organic Act of the Control Yuan (監察院組織法), the appointees must be individually approved, but the nomination and approval of the prosecutor-general gets the cold shoulder. Although this has partly to do with a requirement that the prosecutor-general must be a senior judicial official, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has failed to show any interest in creating a task force to determine nominees, which is a bit curious.

Control Yuan candidates are nominated by the president and approved by the legislature, as is the prosecutor-general. Control Yuan members used to be elected. However, when Control Yuan elections were scrapped after a series of constitutional amendments, the body was further distanced from the legislature and became an agency for governmental self-correction.

The prosecutor-general originally specialized in extraordinary appeals, so when the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office was set up and probing corruption became a key task, it was a kind of self-corrective measure.

The background, nomination process and duties of the Control Yuan and the prosecutor-general are similar, but the latter’s powers are much greater. For example, the prosecutor-general can conduct searches, seize evidence, wiretap and detain suspects, as well as arrest a person if a subpoena cannot be issued. While the Control Yuan can force officials to take administrative responsibility for actions, the prosecutor-general can jail them.

Therefore, is the nomination process for the post of prosecutor-general not much too simple? Comparatively, Control Yuan member selection requires a recommendation task force and nominees who possess relevant expertise and are incorruptible — with an outstanding reputation — to be individually reviewed and approved.

Further, the minister of justice has said that after eliminating candidates with questionable moral conduct or who are considered controversial, anyone who meets the remaining requirements should be approved. It goes without saying that anyone whose moral conduct is questionable should not be prosecutor-general, but should they still be prosecutors? Does that not imply that the standards are too low?

One also must ask whether the prosecutor-general should remain loyal to the president, as well as whether he or she can meet with the head of state in private. Further, if a legislator expresses concern over a case, should the prosecutor-general keep the information private and say that it ends there, or publicize the concerns?

The regulations pertaining to the Control Yuan member nomination review and recommendation task force are implemented upon the president’s approval, so it is up to the president to decide whether the procedure will be followed. Precedent shows that matters concerning the prosecutor-general have been the president’s domain and that nominations signify the head of state’s “infinite royal graciousness.”

It is not very strange, then, that senior prosecutors say that the prosecutor-general’s nomination is the prerogative of the president, that there is no need for the president to consult with subordinates and even that the minister of justice would be out of bounds by interfering. One can only hope that Ma will not begin the Year of the Horse by playing out this kind of court drama.

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