Tue, Sep 22, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Attack on Ko beyond limits of free speech

By Chen In-chin 陳英鈐

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor William Hsu (徐宏庭) last week launched a personal attack on Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). An angry Ko responded by slamming his fist on his desk at the Taipei City Council meeting. Ko later apologized for his action, but this is unlikely to prevent a recurrence. Ko’s only recourse is to request that the High Administrative Court (台北高等行政法院) issue a provisional injunction to forbid councilors humiliating him.

Hsu had criticized Ko, saying that “sooner or later, [former Taipei mayoral candidate] Neil Peng (馮光遠) would say that you and [EasyCard Corp general manager] Tai Chi-chuan (戴季全) have a ‘special relationship’ (特殊性關係),” a phrase that could be interpreted as having sexual connotations.

Hsu made the mistake of believing that a councilor can act recklessly during a council session and forget that their wages are paid by the public. Councilors are not ordinary members of the public and cannot claim the same right to freedom of speech enjoyed by the general public. Although they do enjoy the privilege of not being held responsible for opinions expressed at a council, it does not mean that the privileges are limitless.

The Council of Grand Justices’ Constitutional Interpretation No. 165, which lays out the responsibilities of councilors, states: “Since such protection is to assure that delegates ... properly carry out their duties, it shall be limited to matters with regard to discussing bills, addressing inquiries, etc. Should opinions on unrelated matters be expressed at the meetings and be libelous, defamatory, or in violation of laws, they shall be considered as abuses of such protection ... They shall be held responsible for expressed opinions that are unrelated to the subject matters and clearly in violation of laws.”

Even applying the broadest interpretation of the protection that councilors enjoy according to the council’s Interpretation No. 435 does not justify making baseless remarks or trying to anger others by attacking their character.

In the past, the Taipei City Council sought a constitutional interpretation on whether Article 48 of the Banking Act (銀行法) was applicable in case banks refused to provide their clients’ information to the city council — an issue that was later cleared by the council. To resolve the issue of whether Hsu’s attack on Ko for insinuating that he has a “special relationship” with someone falls under the protection of free speech, Ko and Hsu could similarly ask the council to provide a supplementary explanation of Interpretation No. 165.

Since Ko has pledged to create a concept of “new politics,” he should learn from the German Kommunalverfassungsstreit, which deals with disputes over municipal constitutions. The practice has been used in the German administrative litigation system, which requests that the administrative court issue a provisional injunction to prevent councilors from expressing absurd opinions on unrelated topics or attacking people’s characters.

If the administrative court does not accept Ko’s case, he could ask the Council of Grand Justices to issue a temporary remedy in accordance with Interpretation No. 685.

Asking for a special remedy would not only address the question of whether future relations between the city government and the council would be based on mutual respect, but would also set an example for other local governments and councils.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top