Wed, Jun 20, 2018 - Page 8 News List

The real ‘best friend of the court’

By Lin Yi-ping 林宜平 Chen Hsin-hsing 陳信行 Paul Jobin 彭保羅

After many years of class-action suits and victories at the Taipei District Court and Taiwan High Court, the injured former workers of Radio Corp of America (RCA) Taiwan are on Thursday to attend a definitive hearing at the Supreme Court.

On the eve of the trial, the US company General Electric (GE), which was found jointly responsible for tort liability in the High Court’s judgement, submitted to the Supreme Court an amici curiae brief by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC).

In response, 25 labor groups from 13 nations have addressed a joint letter to the Supreme Court, asking the judges to disregard GE’s attempt to threaten them with economic blackmail. The signatories include the International Trade Union Confederation, which claims 176 million members around the world.

The amicus curiae system, originally derived from ancient Roman law, aims to provide opinions on issues that the court might have difficulty understanding. It has been adopted under common law since the 17th century.

The main purpose is to provide suggestions, especially in cases involving major social or legal issues, to allow people or organizations other than the litigants to express their views and urge the court to consider the case’s influence. From the perspective of procedural justice, it could also enhance the judiciary’s credibility.

However, in the US, the amicus curiae system has often been used by interest groups. Under the cover of “friendship,” outsiders to the lawsuit could benefit from the lack of knowledge about procedural mechanisms and threaten its integrity, which could be detrimental to all the litigants.

The amici curiae brief submitted by GE to the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of US investment to Taiwan’s manufacturing industry.

It also says that, according to the principle of corporate separateness, the RCA case does not meet the test for “piercing the corporate veil” and therefore calls on the court to reject the original verdict and send it back for another trial.

The brief concludes that “such a ruling will benefit the economy of Taiwan by retaining its longstanding reputation as a jurisdiction where laws are predictable and align with international principles of fairness.”

Regardless of whether the RCA case meets the requirements for “piercing the corporate veil,” the question is to be debated at the Supreme Court. Our goal now is to translate amicus curiae into plain English and ask: Who is really the “court’s best friend”?

Although Taiwanese civil law does not have an amicus curiae system, in cases dealing with intellectual property, the court has openly solicited opinions from “friends of the court” to more cautiously approach the rationale of the verdict.

An annex of GE’s brief provides an introduction to the US amici curiae, written by Chin Mong-hwa (金孟華), who holds a doctorate of law from Duke University and teaches in Taiwan, published in the magazine Reform of the Judiciary.

Interestingly, the article states: “According to the Supreme Court Rules No. 37.6, the procedure requests that if a party from the private sector submits a brief, it must disclose the authors and contributors. This is to avoid that a party disguised as a friend of the court submits a written opinion to support its own interest.”

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