Thu, Dec 27, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Law must also protect those who enforce it

By Lin Shu-li 林書立

On Thursday last week, a suspect attacked a police officer at the entrance of the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office and tried to seize his handgun. Thankfully, a driver and a court police officer subdued the suspect.

This incident highlights the danger involved in escorting convicts and suspects. A proposal has been made in the Legislative Yuan to add a new article to the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) that would impose restrictions on the use of handcuffs and the National Police Agency also plans to draw up standards governing their use.

However, last week’s incident is just the latest example of police officers being assaulted in somewhat trivial cases where the suspect would not be expected to try to escape. Even when handcuffs are used, suspects might look for chances to escape and even risk committing offenses such as seizing a firearm or killing a police officer.

Taiwan’s legal system does not define assault on a police officer as a specific offense. Unless such an assault results in death or serious injury, the assailant would only be charged with obstruction of performance of public duties.

Most Anglo-American (common law) jurisdictions have assaulting a police officer as an offense in their law books, whereas in continental (civil law) jurisdictions it does not exist as a discrete offense and is instead dealt with under the offense of obstruction of public duties.

Hong Kong has inherited the common law system of British admiralty law, which includes an offense of assault on police. Section 36, paragraph b of Hong Kong’s Offences Against the Person Ordinance reads: “Any person who ... assaults, resists or willfully obstructs any police officer in the due execution of his duty or any person acting in aid of such officer ... shall be liable to imprisonment for two years.”

Section 63 of the Police Force Ordinance reads: “Any person who assaults or resists any police officer acting in the execution of his duty ... shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of [HK]$5,000 [US$638] and to imprisonment for six months.”

Taiwan has in the past few years seen many assaults on law enforcement officers. Although the viability of adopting the offense of assault on police has been discussed, those responsible eventually decided not to propose such an amendment, because other continental law jurisdictions do not have such an offense.

The legislature on Dec. 7 enacted amendments proposed by the Judicial Yuan to the Court Organic Act (法院組織法) that established a system of grand chambers. If Taiwan does not adopt the offense of assault on police, maybe a future case involving assault on a law enforcement officer could be referred to the grand chamber on the grounds of its importance in principle.

A court that is hearing such a case could refer it to the grand chamber for review and heavier penalties could be imposed on the grounds that it is a major and commonplace legal problem that requires a unified legal opinion.

During the US’ Police Week last year, US President Donald Trump said that his administration would strive to improve the living and working conditions of police officers. He also signed an executive order to impose heavier penalties for assault on police officers.

Taiwan must also stop allowing people who assault police officers to receive light sentences. A nation’s laws must deter unlawful acts and protect law enforcement officers. Otherwise, it is difficult for them to effectively protect the public.

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