The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Judicial Yuan yesterday failed to reach a consensus on an amendment proposing that the death sentence be meted out only when all five judges agree on the final verdict.
The Judicial Yuan said that as the government agency in charge of administering the death penalty, the ministry should decide on the future of the death penalty. The ministry cannot uphold the death sentence and then place restrictions on judges’ right to sentence a defendant to death, it said.
The law stipulates that a death sentence can be handed down with a majority verdict.
Passage of the amendment would make death sentences more difficult to secure and thereby reduce the number of state executions.
The ministry also proposed that the Judicial Yuan amend the law so that Supreme Court justices would have to meet and debate with attorneys representing the defendant when they review a death sentence handed down by the Taiwan High Court.
At present the Supreme Court only reviews the legal documents but does not debate the matter.
In addition, the ministry proposed that a defendant on death row be granted a stay of execution should he or she file a petition for retrial, extraordinary appeal or request an interpretation by the grand justices.
The Judicial Yuan said it would not support either of the three amendments.
The Democratic Progressive Party government promised in 2000 to abolish the death penalty, but the ministry said it had not been able to do so because a majority of Taiwanese still believe that capital punishment is the most effective means of deterring serious crime.
Given this, the ministry has tried to minimize the number of executions by filing extraordinary appeals to the Supreme Court to keep prisoners sentenced to death alive or to delay their executions.
Ministry figures show that the number of executions has been decreasing for years. Thirty-two prisoners were executed in 1998, a number that shrank to 10 in 2001 and to three each in 2004, 2005 and in 2006. No executions were carried out last year.
There are 29 individuals currently on death row.