Thu, Mar 02, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Prosecutors being held liable is key to reforms

By Chen Yi-nan 陳逸南

The Ministry of Justice has proposed three ways to reform the prosecutorial system: raise the prosecution threshold, increase public participation and reinforce the quality of evaluations. These changes will be welcome, and for many people, cannot happen soon enough.

In the past, prosecutors have been used to further the ends of those in power, state violence has been brought to bear on dissidents and some prosecutors have even colluded with criminals. Although angry about these issues, the public had previously not dared do anything about it.

In an article published by Chinese-language media on Feb. 29 last year calling on President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to change the public’s perception of the judiciary, Taipei District Court Judge Lin Meng-huang (林孟皇) said that it was inevitable that the prosecutorial and judicial systems would become the target of review and reform — due to their roles as accomplices to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) former authoritarian rule — and that 70 percent to 80 percent of the public does not trust judges and prosecutors to deal with cases fairly. One year later, rereading that article brings up complex feelings.

In 2006, nine academic specialists and contractors, including then-National Science Council deputy chairman Shieh Ching-jyh (謝清志), were accused of suspected irregularities regarding a contract awarded by the council to reduce high-speed train vibrations near the Southern Taiwan Science Park. After a six-year trial, a not guilty verdict was delivered, leaving the defendants exhausted and financially drained. Shieh’s wife said she had to sell property worth NT$3 million (US$97,529 at the current exchange rate) to pay legal fees, and still came up short. They subsequently tried to sue the prosecutor for wrongful indictment, but the case was thrown out.

According to Article 125 of the Criminal Code and Article 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法), as well as Supreme Court interpretations, wrongly accused members of the public have no legal recourse to sue negligent prosecutors.

In an article published by Chinese-language media on Nov. 2, 2014, regarding problems with prosecutions and penalties and possible reforms, Lin Shu-kai (林書楷) said that provisions of the codes needed to be reviewed and amended. For example, Article 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure should be amended to stipulate that “the victim of a crime may initiate a private prosecution.” Essentially, the indirect victim of a crime is also a victim of the crime, and that person should be able to initiative a private prosecution against prosecutors who abuse their power.

The first hearing of the OBI Pharma Inc (台灣浩鼎) case — in which former Academia Sinica president Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) has been charged with corruption — took place on Feb. 15. Wong has said prosecutors abused their power by taking the case to court, and in doing so caused significant damage to himself, his family and Academia Sinica. Wong said that he would vigorously defend his innocence, while prosecutors have called for a travel ban to be imposed on him. Should Wong be found innocent, what legal liability will the prosecutors face?

In a nation run by the rule of law, there must be evidence proving beyond reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed. The burden of producing this evidence is on prosecutors, not defendants. However, defendants are often required to produce evidence of their own innocence.

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