The Judicial Yuan said yesterday it was considering an amendment to the law governing penalties for pedophiles. The move comes in the wake of public criticism over recent cases where offenders were given what a number of social groups have decried as lenient sentences.
One of the controversial cases involves the ruling handed down by the Kaohsiung District Court last month to Lin Yi-fang (林義芳) who was charged in February with “digitally raping” (using his hands) a six-year-old girl.
Rather than find him guilty of committing “sexual assault,” which is punishable by three to 10 years in jail, the court said that because the girl “did not show a strong will” in fighting off her attacker, Lin was convicted of “having sex with person age under 14 years of age.”
Lin was sentenced to three years and two months in prison.
The Kaohsiung District Court defended the controversial decision, but promised to “reflect and improve” following the criticism.
“The judges didn’t say the child had ‘consented,’ but they found that there was no violent or forceful means involved,” spokeswoman Lee Shu-huei (李淑惠) said at the time.
However, more than 150,000 angry Netizens in an Internet campaign have petitioned for the removal of the judges.
In a separate case, the Supreme Court earlier this week asked the Taiwan High Court to re-hear the case of 55-year-old Wu Ching-yi (吳進義), who was sentenced to seven years and two months in prison by the High Court for sexually assaulting a three-year-old girl.
The Supreme Court said the High Court should consider whether Wu “had sex with a person under the age of 14” rather than committed “sexual assault” because the young girl did not resist the offender.
In the wake of these controversial rulings and others, Judicial Yuan Secretary-General Shen Shou-ching (沈守敬) said the Judicial Yuan has asked the Ministry of Justice to draft an amendment to the law that would apply tougher penalties to pedophiles.
Under the current law, it can be difficult for judges to ascertain whether or not an offender is acting against a victim’s will when the victim is under a certain age, Shen said.
As a result, rulings can be highly controversial, he said.
Commenting on the Judicial Yuan’s move, several social groups said they supported the call for a revision of laws concerning sexual abuse against minors, but added that the quality of judges was the crux of the issue.
“By calling for a revision of the law, the Judicial Yuan is implying that it’s the law that is problematic, not judges, and is therefore avoiding talk about errors judges have made,” Judicial Reform Foundation executive director Lin Feng-jeng (林峰正) said.
“However, as long as judges don’t change their mentality, there will be more problems in the future, so do we just keep revising laws?” Lin said.
Lin said the problem could be better solved if a system for evaluating judges is adopted.
“We’ve been pushing for a law on evaluating judges for a long time, but it’s still awaiting discussion,” he said. “If such a system is in place, people would be able to apply for an independent evaluation of the judge if they think he or she has made a mistake. In turn, judges could also apply for an independent probe if they think they have been wronged.”
Garden of Hope Foundation executive director Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容) said she fully supported establishing a formal system for evaluating judges. She also agreed that the proposed amendment “did not address the issue of weeding out unsuitable judges,” but said she would be “happy to see the legal revision in place.”
“Changing the law is not the key issue,” Children’s Welfare League Foundation executive director Alicia Wang (王育敏) said in a telephone interview. “In fact, some judges have stood in the victim’s shoes during the legal process, but the viewpoint was later overturned.”
As the government agency in charge of protecting children’s rights, Child Welfare Bureau director-general Chang Hsiu-yuan (張秀鴛) said she thought judges should stay more connected to reality when making a judgment.
“To better protect children’s rights and safety, I would support the letter-writing campaign launched by Taiwan Fund for Children and Families [TFCF].”
The fund has launched a campaign asking the public to write to the president and government officials to call for training that keeps judges more attuned to the real world. The campaign also urges the wider use of testimony from experts on children and to automatically apply tougher penalties to pedophiles.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP
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