The amendments to the Code of Court Martial Procedure (軍事審判法) that will send military personnel to civilian courts for trial represents an “extremely big change” to the nation’s legal system, a source familiar with military law said yesterday.
The Legislative Yuan on Tuesday passed amendments to the code to make service personnel subject to prosecution and trial in civilian courts for offenses committed during peacetime.
The amendment is the latest major modification to the 1956 law. The legislature passed an amendment in 1999 to set up independent military courts and keep superiors out of the trials of their subordinates to uphold the spirit of judiciary independence, the source said.
The majority of low-level military justice personnel had “absolutely no idea” that court martials were being scrapped during peacetime “until they saw [the Cabinet’s press conference on Saturday] on TV,” the source said.
The Cabinet announced its intention to amend court martial laws in response to a massive demonstration on Saturday last week, when about 200,000 people took to the streets near the Presidential Office to demand justice for army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), who died on July 4 during his mandatory service, and better protection of human rights in the military.
The court martial system has long been a divisive issue, with a majority of academics agreeing that military trials should be scaled down during times of peace, but calls for “an outright abrogation/abolition” of the system were few in number before the issue reached the legislature, the source said.
The amendments passed on Tuesday will be implemented in two stages.
The first, effective immediately, brings military servicemen to civilian courts under the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟).
Other offenses will not be subject to civilian trials until five months after the amendment has been promulgated.