Transitional justice and civil participation have been lacking from the reform process of the judicial system, which has refused to adapt during the nation’s democratization process in the past two decades, panelists said at a forum in Taipei yesterday.
Taiwan’s judicial reform has a long way to go, academics, lawyers and representatives from judicial watchdogs observed as they reviewed judicial reform in a forum organized by the Taiwan Brain Trust (TBT) think tank.
“The decay of Taiwan’s judicial system has reached the critical point where citizens can no longer tolerate it as you could see from the ‘White Rose’ movement calling for judicial reform last year,” TBT research fellow Lin Iong-sheng (林雍昇) said, adding that the current system was “laughable.”
Having long been criticized for its lack of transparency, integrity, efficiency and fairness, the judicial system has turned a blind eye to the dramatic changes which the other arms of government — the executive and legislative branches — had experienced since the nation’s democratization began in 1987 after the lifting of the 38-year-old martial law, Lin said.
While citizens are able to “counter” the executive and legislative branches with elections, they cannot do anything about the judiciary, he said, adding that any judicial reform would not be a “real” one without citizen participation.
“We asked for judiciary independence and ended up with judiciary authoritarianism,” Lin said. “If self-examination and self-discipline are out of the question [for the judiciary system], heteronomy will certainly be introduced.”
The issue of transitional justice has been overlooked in past reform attempts, said Charles Lo (羅承宗), assistant professor of financial and economic law at Chungyu Institute of Technology. Citing Germany where two-thirds of the 1,500 East German judges were stripped of their duties following Germany’s reunification for committing judicial human rights violations, Lo said there were never such approaches carried out in Taiwan.
“Political oppression disguised as judicial practices will always be there if transitional justice is not served,” Lo said.
In Taiwan, people’s distrust of the judicial system is the fundamental problem, while the lack of education of laws in the school system is another, said attorney Wellington Koo (顧立雄), a panelist at the forum.
The reform in 1999 focused on judicial independence to make sure political and outside interference would be kept at a minimum, Ku said.
However, he said, “judicial accountability” is what the White Rose movement has asked for.
That means people with power should be held accountable at all times and that promotions, evaluations and impeachment of the judiciary should be carried out by independent institutions, rather than judges themselves, Koo said.
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