Editorial: Independent judiciary still a dream

Fri, Aug 17, 2007 - Page 8

For years, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has trumpeted the idea of transitional justice, but it has been hesitant to take the message to the judicial arena for fear of being accused of "political interference.

In light of Tuesday's verdict in the corruption trial of former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), in which Judge Tsai Shou-hsun's (蔡守訓) ruling and interpretation on the special mayoral allowance as a subsidy has sparked much debate, it is time to clarify what an independent judiciary means.

Judicial independence means that the judiciary is free of interference from any administrative or legislative agencies. It does not mean that the judiciary is exempt from scrutiny or criticism. How can Taiwan progress if our less-than-professional judges cannot be criticized or scrutinized?

During his visit last month, former East German prime minister Lothar de Maiziere discussed how a reunified Germany has dealt with the issue of transitional justice.

After reunification, the Bonn government set up an independent organization to supervise the process. Aside from clearing the names and restoring the reputation of people who were once "blacklisted" by the East German communist regime, Bonn also publicized a list of former informers who then lost the right to serve in government. It required all political parties and their affiliated organizations to put their assets under the trust of an independent commission formed by the prime minister.

De Maiziere also said that 50 percent of the former communist regime's judges were considered unfit for their jobs and were relieved of their duties. If Germany can do this, why can't Taiwan?

It has been 20 years since martial law was lifted in Taiwan. However, a "martial-law" mindset still exists in many areas of the bureaucracy, including the judicial system.

Many in the judiciary attained their current positions as judges or prosecutors after passing countless national examinations. While their efforts and professionalism should be recognized and respected, it is still worth discussing how much of the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration's party-state mindset still holds sway over these judicial elite who had to memorize and parrot the former regime's party-state ideas in order to pass the tests needed to advance their careers.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law, the government staged a series of commemorative events, in addition to think tanks holding forums on transitional justice and inviting experts from Hungary, Lithuania and Germany to share their experiences.

However, other than drafting a statute on the disposition of assets improperly obtained by political parties (政黨不當取得財產處理條例) that was aimed at recovering the KMT's stolen assets, what other concrete measures has the DPP government taken to address the transitional justice it often trumpets?

It has failed not only to propose bills to clear the names of those once blacklisted by the former KMT regime, but has also failed to propose a plan to bring former informers and "students spies" to justice, let alone overhauling the judicial system.

Whether the DPP administration's lack of action in implementing transitional justice will cost it the presidency next year is not important. What is important is that its lack of action in this regard has hampered Taiwan's path to becoming a healthy democratic country.