Chang Yu-feng (張瑜鳳), the division chief judge who oversaw Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) case at the Taipei District Court, is the only one of the 34 chief judges recently reviewed by the Judicial Yuan committee to be removed. This has led to accusations by legislators across party lines that the move was belated revenge by the government for Chang’s favorable ruling toward Wang after the September Strife last year.
According to Article 10 of the Judges Act (法官法) and the regulations for the selection of division chief judges, the selection shall be based on the judges’ integrity, academic background, work, skills and performance in carrying out judicial duties, with clear reasons provided.
The appointment of a division chief judge reflects a judge’s dignity, reputation and integrity, and for such a judge to be relieved of their position is tantamount to casting suspicion over that judge’s integrity, academic background, work and ability.
With the exception of a small number of judges who have been relieved of their duties in the past due to involvement in corruption or serious disciplinary issues, under normal circumstances, division chief judges are generally allowed to continue in their duties following the review.
It is therefore incumbent upon the Judicial Yuan to provide an explanation of why, in this case, it was deemed inappropriate to allow Chang to continue in the capacity as a division chief judge. This cannot just be glossed over simply because it was, apparently, a decision arrived at via a majority vote.
The judges review committee is made up of 11 members: five government appointees, three external appointees and three elected members. In addition to the five government appointees, two of the three externally appointed members were chosen by individuals high up in the Judicial Yuan. That is to say, the Judicial Yuan was able to influence, either directly or indirectly, at least seven members of the committee.
How very convenient for the government to have political sway over more than half of the committee, and relieve, through “a majority vote,” the division chief judge who refused to toe President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) line.
This incident reminds me of one in 2008, when Shilin District Court Judge Hung Ying-hua (洪英花) told the media of her concerns over the procedural legitimacy of replacing a judge during the corruption case involving former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), saying that it violated the constitutional principle of judicial independence in the assigning of judges to cases.
The Ma administration was furious, and Hung was removed from the case by the Judicial Yuan, completely counter to legal procedure and without giving a reason for her dismissal.
The Judicial Yuan is back to the same old tricks, this time taking action against a division chief judge who dared to go against the government’s wishes.
The government has once again shown its willingness to trample over judicial independence in its desire to purge the judiciary of whom it sees as a political thorn in its side.
It has offended democratic principles, in what is also an insult to this country’s pretensions to being run by the rule of law.
Huang Di-ying is a lawyer.
Translated by Paul Cooper