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Fri, Sep 01, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Legislators vow a clean break for new session

ABUSE OF PRIVILEGE Still reeling from a scandal involving judicial immunity, the Legislative Yuan's speaker announced that lawmakers have jointly agreed that they will not shield criminal elements

By Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTER

On the eve of a new session in the Legislative Yuan, Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday promised that members of the legislature would not abuse their privilege of judicial immunity in defending colleagues who had broken the law.

"We are supportive of any actions to prevent criminal behavior," Wang said.

Wang said the legislature would process court decisions to subpoena or arrest legislators "according to normal procedures."

According to the ROC Constitution, legislators are immune from arrest and detention when the legislature is in session, unless the legislature approves the action or in cases of flagrante delicto.

Prosecutors, therefore, sometimes have to make use of the legislature's recess period to take action, according to analysts -- one of the most recent cases being one involving KMT Legislator Liao Hwu-peng (廖福本), who was alleged to have sold bogus shares in Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp (奇美電子).

On Aug. 16, prosecutors led investigators in a search of Liao's apartment, located in the Ta-an Complex, a government-owned residence for legislators.

But a search of Liao's office in the Legislative Yuan was blocked after speaker Wang insisted that any search of the legislature's confines should not go ahead without his permission.

In what was said to be a move to safeguard the independent jurisdiction of the legislature, legislators led by Wang later even claimed that the "confines of the legislature" should cover all premises under the legislature's control, including residential complexes and other related subsidiary areas.

This claim -- which was seen by critics as an over-interpretation of the immunity enjoyed by law-makers -- has since become an issue for debate among legal professionals.

In a public hearing held in the Legislative Yuan yesterday, participants all agreed that the claim was simply "political posturing" that did not carry any legal weight.

The participants, meanwhile, also concurred that the dispute derived from a lack of clear-cut definition in the Constitution on what should be considered "confines" of the legislature.

Thomas Chen (陳東璧), a practicing lawyer and professor of law at Queen's University in Canada, said that since the purpose of granting lawmakers privileges was to ensure they can execute their duties without undue hinderance, only facilities that are necessary for the performance of their duties should be considered as within the "legislature's confines."

"Residence is not a necessary facility for the execution of their duties and therefore is not part of the legislature's confines," Chen said.

Chen said the immunity offered to lawmakers under the ROC Constitution is too generous in comparison to that granted in countries such as England, Canada and the US.

Chen noted that in these countries, lawmakers are immune only from civil complaints, but not criminal ones.

"Criminal offenses are those that violate the basic public interests of a country and [perpetrators] should not be protected from arrest," Chen said.

Prosecutor Chen Jui-jen (陳瑞仁) said that protection for persons and places should be clearly differentiated, based on the spirit of the Constitution.

"Lawmakers are immune from arrest, but the confines of the Legislative Yuan are not immune from search," Chen argued.

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