Judiciary fails Hsichih Trio
The news that the Taiwan High Court scaled down the level of compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment offered to the Hsichih Trio by disingenuously arguing that the three were not tortured by police and were in part responsible for their own detention comes as no surprise to those following the case and serves as an example of the crisis of legitimacy at the heart of Taiwan’s judicial system (“Court offers NT$15m to compensate Hsichih Trio,” April 11, page 3).
In a constitutional republic, the concept of “rule of law” — that no one is above the law — is the central tenet that supports the authority of the police, prosecutorial and penal system. This principle is violated when people are unfairly victimized by the legal system.
In the case of the Hsichih Trio, judges and prosecutors (one of whom is now in detention on corruption charges) have shown themselves incapable of respecting the final ruling made in September last year declaring the men innocent.
First, they suggested that the men should donate their compensation to charity — insinuating that the three do not deserve it — and now they have twisted the truth and blamed the defendants in an attempt to scale down the level of compensation that could be awarded.
Judges and prosecutors in this case are more concerned about their loss of face and public pressure than about carrying out their duties fairly in accordance with the law.
Judicial incompetence led to three men being wrongly incarcerated for 12 years. During that time the victims’ relatives and the media were repeatedly told that the three were murderers.
Proven wrong, judges and prosecutors are too embarrassed to face the facts and apologize. Instead, they continue to imply that the men are guilty even though they are unable to prove it. This is a form of legalistic character assassination and a revenge politics.
There are numerous other cases in which a politicized judiciary has misled the public and undermined faith in the impartiality of the judicial process.
In the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office’s Special Investigation Panel convened a press conference to say that it was determined to find him guilty and punish him — before Chen had been charged with any crime. This was highly irregular, possibly illegal and crudely designed to influence public opinion. Chen was tried and convicted by the media before the courts examined and dismissed most of the charges levied against him.
Similarly, we have seen the tactic of using the judiciary to exact revenge in the cases of opposition politicians falsely accused of corruption, many of whom were placed in “preventative detention,” standing in contrast to high-level Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials charged with corruption, who were quickly released on bail.
How many more will fall victim to the nation’s politicized and partial judicial system before some semblance of professionalism and independence is achieved?