Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Court reduces powers of 319 committee

UNCONSTITUTIONAL The Council of Grand Justices ruled that the 'truth committee' investigating the election-eve shooting of the president had inappropriate authority

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The committee convened by the pan-blue-camp-dominated legislature to investigate the shooting of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) received a blow yesterday when the statute forming it was declared partially unconstitutional by the Council of Grand Justices.

Two articles of the March 19 Shooting Truth Investigation Special Committee Statute (三一九槍擊事件真相調查特別委員會條例) violated the Constitution in their entirety and eight articles should be amended, the grand justices ruled yesterday, though the highest court added that the committee could continue with reduced powers.

"The committee formerly enjoyed prosecutorial powers of investigation and the same authority as the Legislative Yuan. This was against the Constitution and has been invalidated," Judicial Yuan Secretary-General Fan Kuang-chun (范光群) quoted the verdict as saying at a press conference yesterday.

The court's constitutional interpretation was the result of an application by 93 Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) lawmakers on Sept. 15.

The lawmakers hoped that the grand justices would rule the statute to be unconstitutional and fully suspend the committee's operations.

But this did not happen.

Referring to the request for suspension, the grand justices ruled, "It is not necessary to discuss whether or not to suspend [the committee] now that the interpretation is available."

In response to the verdict, committee member Yeh Yao-peng (葉耀鵬) declared that "justice was interfering with the legislature."

"The grand justices only care about which government office the committee should belong to," Yeh said. "Their decision will take us further and further away from the truth."

Article Eight and Article Thirteen were the two articles of the statute declared unconstitutional.

Article Eight gave committee members the same powers as prosecutors. The committee was able to summon anyone at any time for questioning and prevent any person from traveling outside the country, including the president and the vice president. Those who refused to comply could have been fined from NT$100,000 to NT$1 million and the fine imposed again if the refusal to cooperate persisted.

Article Thirteen required pros-ecutors to indict any person alleged by the committee to be involved in the case. These cases then had to be heard by the Taiwan High Court rather than lower courts.

But if the high court ruled in favor of the defendant, then the committee was authorized to ask the court to hear the case all over again with the same arguments and evidence and without amending the indictment.

Before yesterday's decision, the committee acted as an independent organization with unlimited administrative and judicial authority.

Such authority is claimed by no other government body.

The grand justices decided to classify the committee as an administrative office under the Legislative Yuan and ordered lawmakers to amend a number of articles to that effect. In the meantime, committee members are now required to be assigned by the legislative speaker. The original statute said the 17 committee members were to be nominated by lawmakers and approved by the president.

Article Four was also ordered to be changed by the grand justices.

That article states that the committee does not fall under government organs and cannot be supervised by them.

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