A year-and-a-half ago, the Judges’ Act (法官法) passed the third legislative reading. This time last year, the Judicial Yuan and the Ministry of Justice announced that they were setting up a judge and prosecutor evaluation committee based on the act, saying they would make good use of the law to remove unfit judges and prosecutors.
A year has passed and it is now time for a review.
The Judicial Yuan’s Judge Evaluation Committee (法官評鑑委員會) has recommended disciplinary action against three judges each receiving a warning and demotion. However, not one of the around 1,800 judges nationally has been removed.
The ministry’s Prosecutor Evaluation Committee has only recommended a single prosecutor, from roughly 1,300 nationwide, be disciplined and no final verdict has been reached. In a whole year, only a handful of resolutions have been made.
The Judge Evaluation Committee prefers to refer individual cases of judges who have been proven to have made errors to the Judicial Yuan’s Personnel Evaluation Commission for disciplining.
This conflicts with the original reason for the establishment of independent evaluations to replace the existing system of self-discipline among judges.
In mid-April last year, the Judicial Reform Foundation reported that Lin Kuan-yu (林冠佑), a prosecutor at the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office, had a vicious manner in court. Still no disciplinary action has been decided. Probably because Lin gained the ministry’s approval to study abroad, meaning that no evaluation could be held. There are clearly shortcomings in the practical evaluation process.
First, many people criticize judges and prosecutors for their poor behavior in court and report them to the authorities. Such accusations are easy to check: All that is needed is to request the recordings of the court proceedings and no gray areas should arise.
However, these recordings are often difficult to obtain during an ongoing trial. Even civic groups authorized to report on judges and prosecutors by the Judicial Yuan and the ministry are denied when applying for a copy of trial recordings or unable to listen to the recording.
Second, if members of the Judicial Yuan’s Personnel Evaluation Commission have the right to investigate public complaints on their own initiative, then why do members of the judge and prosecutor evaluation committees have to wait for a report to be made instead of actively initiating an investigation?
Third, Article 6 of the implementation regulations for prosecutor evaluations states that evaluation review requirements allow evaluation committee members to visit sites where reported events allegedly occurred for an investigation. There they can read files and request a search of the workplace of the person under evaluation.
However, the ministry restricts the evaluation committee members’ investigative rights, meaning they can only investigate specifically reported cases rather than gain a full understanding of the professional behavior of those under evaluation. Without this ability it may be difficult to determine whether a reported offense is an honest mistake or habitually repeated.
In addition, the practical application of banning members of the public from submitting reports directly to the authorities, and an excessively short evaluation period have led to much conflict over the past year. These issues are a result of the authorities’ conservative approach.
If we cannot put an end to the practice of officials protecting each other, credibility will be difficult to establish for the judge and prosecutor evaluation system.
Lin Feng-jeng is a lawyer and executive director of the Judicial Reform Foundation.
Translated by Perry Svensson