Jerome Cohen, an expert in Asian Law at New York University and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) mentor during his studies at Harvard University, yesterday launched a scathing attack on Taiwan’s judiciary, accusing it of serious flaws in its dealings with the case against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
In an opinion piece titled “Chen Judges Bungle Their Chance” that ran in yesterday’s South China Morning Post, Cohen blasted judges for ruining a chance to show the “independence, impartiality and competence” of Taiwan’s judiciary, adding that the nation’s vibrant democracy was under threat from its seemingly flawed judicial system.
A fair trial for the former president, he argued, “would vindicate the values of clean government, deter potential wrongdoers and heighten confidence in courts.”
“Recent court proceedings have mocked that promise,” he wrote.
It marks a sharp U-turn in Cohen’s opinions, who just last month during a visit to Taiwan told the Taipei Times: “Since the early 1990s, Taiwan, by and large, has developed neutrality of prosecutors and judges. I have met prosecutors, lawyers, law professors [on this visit] and I have a pretty good feeling about it.”
On Chen’s detention by the Taipei District Court, Cohen said the decision, made in response to a second appeal from prosecutors, “contradicted the spirit of the Council of Grand Justices’ Interpretation No. 653 issued several days earlier,” which “emphasized that the criminally accused should only be detained when no other measures suffice.”
He added that high bail and residential restrictions would have been sufficient for the former president, as continued detention hampers the preparation of a detainee’s defense.
Cohen, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, went on to slam the controversial process to relieve financial crime expert Judge Chou Chan-chun (周占春) of Chen’s case and hand it to an allegedly reluctant Judge Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓), questioning whether the decision to merge the trials (which he said was procedurally flawed), the timing and the circumstances of the move were a result of political pressure.
Only drastic action, such as the selection of a new panel of judges, would be enough to restore public confidence in the trial, he said.
Asked for comment on the article by the Taipei Times, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) yesterday said that the president has always respected the independence of the judiciary and has never interfered in the system.
The letter is the second time in recent months Ma’s former mentor has criticized the judiciary.
On Nov. 13, Cohen, in another piece, condemned the judiciary and called for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the pre-trial detention of present and former Democratic Progressive Party politicians.
He also criticized the police’s handling of the protests during Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit to Taiwan.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY Ko Shu-ling