The Ministry of Labor on Monday said it will not appeal the verdict in a case involving more than 1,000 laid-off workers.
The case began in 2012, when the ministry’s predecessor, the Council of Labor Affairs, filed a lawsuit against workers who had failed to repay loans from the council. The council claimed the loans had been re-employment assistance after the employees were laid off without severance or retirement pay in the 1990s.
Regardless of the real reasons behind this policy change, the ministry’s press release makes it clear that it is displeased with the judiciary.
The ministry begins by pointing out that the verdict differs greatly from past decisions by district courts around the nation, which typically ruled in favor of the council. The press release also said that other courts had asked the Council of Grand Justices to issue a constitutional interpretation of the case, as it was clear that different courts and judges had different interpretations and opinions, meaning that it would be impossible to reach a final, uniform judgement in the short term.
These comments amount to an accusation against the judiciary and have an even deeper impact on the public and lawyers than on the parties involved in the case.
One reason that similar cases yield different rulings is that individual judges have different points of view and interpretations of the law. Allowing judges independent jurisdiction and respecting their free and discretionary evaluations are unavoidable effects of democracy, the rule of law and the insistence on an independent judiciary.
Rulings are almost always a zero-sum game. Unless a settlement is reached, the winning side will be thankful and happy, and the losing side unsatisfied and critical. There are also rulings in which both sides are dissatisfied. Given that modern law stresses judicial independence, a ruling from a judge who has received extensive training and possesses a lot of experience will search for the truth, be objective, be guided by the law and not influenced by external influences, including public opinion.
However, in cases like the ones mentioned here, the facts and evidence were the same, with the exception of the individual workers in each case. Yet still, the rulings differed. Even if the Judicial Yuan does not respond to the ministry’s accusations, it should still think deeply about how to best avoid repeating situations like this one, in which no one finds clarity and no agreement can be reached.
While the independent jurisdiction of judges is necessary for an independent judiciary, it is hard for people who lack legal knowledge to understand why some judges viewed the cases as falling under private law involving loans, while others viewed them as part of public law involving re-employment assistance. This will have a major negative impact on the public’s already flagging confidence in the judiciary.
Just as former grand justice Hsu Tzong-li (許宗力) has said, when it comes to legal disputes between the government and the public, lawyers interpreting the law should focus on protecting the weaker parties.
Judge Wen Tsung-ling (溫宗玲), who was instrumental in helping the laid-off workers win their cases and was the first person to show the courage to define the cases as disputes of public law, as well as Judge Wang Pi-fang (王碧芳), who presided over the turnaround of five recent cases at the Taipei High Administrative Court, are both admirable.
The Judicial Yuan should use this case as an opportunity to win back the public’s trust. Another urgent task is the reform of legal documents on rulings to make them understandable to the public.
Chan Shun-kuei is a lawyer and chairman of the Taiwan Bar Association’s environmental law committee.
Translated by Drew Cameron