Mon, Apr 17, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Assembly takes first jab at Justices

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM National Assembly delegates say they are determined to stop the `self-fattening' of the Council of Grand Justices, but they may be misinterpreting the Constitution

By Jou Ying-cheng  /  STAFF REPORTER

Leaders of the KMT and DPP caucuses in the National Assembly yesterday vowed to pass additional constitutional amendments that would remove the legal right of the Council of Grand Justices to receive lifetime stipends.

Although their announcement appears to have been based on a misinterpretation of the law, this has not stopped Assembly delegates from acting on the issue.

A total of four constitutional amendments -- including those meant to marginalize the National Assembly, and another abolishing the Council of Grand Justices -- were passed in a committee review session yesterday, and will certainly move as a result into the second-reading stage, expected on April 24.

One Assembly leader claimed the Council had previously made self-serving interpretations of the law.

"It has been proved that the Council interpreted the Constitution so that they could continue to receive life stipends after their terms expire," said Alex Tsai (蔡正元), the KMT party whip. "We will add the amendment [to the Constitution] to ensure that Article 81 of the Constitution does not apply to Grand Justices."

The article concerns the security of life tenure and salary of judges.

Tsai said that Grand Justices, whose tenure is based on a term system, have -- according to their own Interpretation No. 396, in 1996 -- likened themselves to judges.

DPP caucus leader Liu I-teh (劉一德) also vowed to fight this "self-fattening" of the Grand Justices.

"Some think revenge could be had through the abolishment of the Council. But abolishment at the time would only enable them instead to continue to get paid until they die," Liu said.

But in fact, Reinterpretation No. 396 concerns a separate category of public employees, and actually has nothing to do with the Council of Grand Justices.

Salary guarantees for Grand Justices is, instead, written into the Organization Law of the Judicial Yuan.

A 1992 amendment of Article 5 of that law stipulates that Grand Justices whose terms expire -- and are not renewed -- shall be regarded as judicial officials who have ceased to handle cases. This means that despite being retired from the Council, the law stipulates they receive lifetime stipend guarantees.

Instead of being a "self-fattening" reinterpretation by the Grand Justices, therefore, the fault -- if any -- lies with the Legislative Yuan.

In a strange twist of irony, the bill was proposed in the legislature in 1992 by President-elect Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), then a DPP lawmaker.

At the time, said one legal scholar, the spirit of the legislation had to do with securing the independence of the Council from political interference, not about improper interests.

"The article emphasizes that the Grand Justices' status and functions, while exercising their powers independently, should not be distinguished from those of court judges," said Hsu Chih-hsiung (許志雄), an associate professor at Tamkang University.

The National Assembly's gestures aimed at the Council were seen as revenge over the latter's reinterpretation of the Constitution, when they ruled that amendments extending the Assembly's own term were improper.

A total of seven amendments began their first readings in the Assembly session, with four amendments passing committee review yesterday.

One amendment marginalizing the Assembly -- a move supported by all major parties -- passed in a landslide vote, with 244 deputies out of 262 present casting an affirmative vote.

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