The Legislative Yuan yesterday passed amendments to the Code of Court Martial Procedure (軍事審判法) and the National Security Act (國家安全法) that would transfer jurisdiction of all military criminal cases to the civilian judicial system during peacetime.
The immediate result of the vote is that the prosecution of 18 army officers and non-commissioned officers in connection with the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) last month will be passed to civilian prosecutors and judges.
Other military criminal cases will be transferred to the civilian system by the beginning of next year.
Political parties quickly reached a consensus on the issue yesterday morning in a cross-party negotiation convened by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) that came less than three days after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Taipei on Saturday to demand the immediate reform of the military judicial system.
Lawmakers hailed the vote as “historic” and said that the move would safeguard human rights in the military and enforce the principle of judicial monism.
The amended clauses include Articles 1, 34 and 237 of the Code of Court Martial Procedure and Article 8 of the National Security Act.
The amendments transfer jurisdiction for cases involving abuse of subordinates, obstruction of petition by violence or threat, offense against the external security of the nation and other criminal cases.
The Democratic Progressive Party caucus said it welcomed the amendments, since the party has always advocated the use of a single, centralized judicial system during peacetime.
The military’s handling of the investigation into Hung’s death has sparked widespread public outrage, with many people saying they no longer trusted the military judicial system.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) told a news conference at the legislature that his party, which previously insisted on a two-phase amendment of the legislation, had listened to the public’s demands and agreed to amend the laws in one go, but implement the reform in two phases.
That means the Hung case, as well as other cases that fit the criteria, will be immediately transferred while all other military criminal cases will be transferred in five months to allow time for the military and civilian judicial systems to work out the transfer process.
However, the KMT insists that a special military court be established under the Ministry of Justice since expertise on military affairs would be required for prosecutors and judges who handle such cases, Lai said.
Some lawmakers were not happy with the rush to pass the amendments.
KMT Legislator Chen Cheng-hsiang (陳鎮湘), a retired general who has been one of the most vocal critics of the proposed transfer, said wrongdoers in the military should be punished, but the image of the nation’s military should not be tarnished by one case.
Chen said that under the amendments, the definition of abuse would be ambiguous, which could destroy the military. He said it would be a “tragedy” if supplementary measures were not put into place.
Taiwan Solidarity Union caucus whip Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) said he was concerned that the military might not cooperate with civilian investigators on military criminal cases in the future.
The Ministry of National Defense said it would fully cooperate with the civilian judicial system in the execution of the amendments.
Ministry spokesman Major General David Lo (羅紹和) said the military is studying and comparing the military confinement systems in the US, the UK and Japan as part of the process to draft amendments to the Punishment Act of Armed Forces (陸海空軍懲罰法).
After a draft is completed, the military would hold a series of public hearings before sending its proposal to the Executive Yuan for approval and the Legislative Yuan for review, Lo said.
Meanwhile, the North Military District Court early yesterday morning upheld its earlier decision to release Staff Sergeant Chen Yi-hsun (陳毅勳) on bail.
Chen Yi-hsun, who oversaw Hung’s punishment, was released on Thursday last week on NT$150,000 bail. He faces the most serious charge of those indicted for allegedly abusing Hung to death by forcing him to do excessive exercises.
The Military High Court on Monday ordered the North Military District Court to review its decision to release the sergeant on bail.
Chen Yi-hsun was quoted as telling the court during a late-night hearing that he was willing to remain in custody if his detention would help uncover the truth.
An attorney for the Hung family had argued for Chen Yi-hsun to be kept in custody, saying that he would be able to make telephone calls if released and might be able to collude with the other defendants.
Additional reporting by Rich Chang
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