Thu, Aug 20, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Review of bill closed to rights groups

JUDICIAL REFORM A bill could put an end to the phenomenon of criminal cases bouncing between courts for years on end, but the legislation is still being drafted

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Groups campaigning for judicial reform yesterday protested their exclusion from “public hearings” on a bill to ensure the right to a speedy trial.

Taiwan has a number of criminal cases that have bounced back and forth between the supreme and high courts for years. In one case, three former senior managers at a bank went through repeated trials for three decades before the verdict was finalized. The three were found innocent.

Amid heavy criticism over such cases from legal experts and activists pushing for judicial reform, the Judicial Yuan is drafting a bill intended to speed up criminal cases.

The bill includes measures such as increasing the number of assistants for judges and restricting prosecutors’ right to appeal under certain circumstances.

The Judicial Yuan arranged a series of public hearings in Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Hualien to review the content of the bill, but only invited judges, prosecutors, lawyers and law professors, excluding representatives from several civic groups actively working with the issue, the groups said in a statement.

The groups include the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR), Green Party Taiwan, the National Union of Taiwan Women’s Associations, the Taiwan Labor Front, Amnesty International Taiwan, Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty and the Humanistic Education Foundation.

“These ‘public hearings’ are neither open to the public nor aimed at listening to the public,” the statement said.

“We are groups that specialize in judicial matters. We have all handled legal cases involving human rights abuses in various fields,” the statement said. “We may be better representatives of the people involved in these cases than legal professionals.”

TAHR secretary-general Tsai Chih-hsun (蔡季勳) said her organization had been working closely with the defendants in the Hsichih Trio case, in which three men spent years on death row despite a lack of forensic evidence linking them to two murders in Sijhih (汐止), Taipei County, in 1991. The case was reopened and the men acquitted in 2003. However, the ruling was not final and the case is continuing after 10 trials.

“We know what they’re thinking and know the suffering they’ve been through,” Tsai said.

“The Judicial Yuan should have invited these victims of the judiciary to attend the hearings or they should at least have consulted the groups who have been working closely with such victims,” she said.

The Hsichih Trio — Liu Bing-lang (劉秉郎), Su Chien-ho (蘇建和) and Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) — have been allowed to return home while their trial continues and Su began working at TAHR after his release.

Tsai said that the Judicial Yuan had drafted the bill in response to the public’s calls and “should not work [on it] behind closed doors ... We often have to wait until a bill is submitted to the Legislative Yuan for review to know what exactly is in it.”

Judicial Yuan official Lee Wen-fu (李文福) said yesterday that it was not the best time to involve the public in the process because the bill was still being drafted.

“We’re not even sure what direction we’re heading in yet and we can’t really discuss with the public a plan that doesn’t exist,” he said.

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