Defendants who represent themselves in legal cases are to be given the right to read the original files of their cases following the Council of Grand Justices’ publication on Friday of Interpretation No. 762, in which they ruled that denying access to such material is unconstitutional.
The grand justices ordered the Judicial Yuan, the competent authority on the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法), to amend Article 33, Subparagraph 2 of the code within the year.
Two defendants had filed for a constitutional interpretation, claiming that their right to defense was infringed upon.
One of the defendants, surnamed Chu (朱), who stands accused of homicide and robbery, said requests that the Tainan branch of the Taiwan High Court provide photographs included in the evidence submitted to the court were turned down by the presiding judge, as well as the Supreme Court.
The other defendant, surnamed Wang (王), who stands accused in an assault case, said his requests for all material related to the investigation, including recordings, were turned down by the Taichung District Court, which also told him he would not be granted an interlocutory appeal over the decision.
Judicial Yuan statistics showed that 31,669 out of 50,361 defendants chose to represent themselves in court in 2016.
In more than 70 percent of cases tried between 2013 and 2016, or 180,056 out of 239,430, the defense did not hire legal counsel, the Judicial Yuan said.
Such defendants will be entitled to request and read the rulings in their cases after the Judicial Yuan amends the code, it said.
Under current regulations, legal counsel representing the defendant can review — and is allowed to copy or photograph — all evidence and files provided by the plaintiff.
However, defendants without legal representation can only request a copy of the statements made, with no access to any other material, which experts said should be considered an infringement on defendants’ rights to self-defense in court.
The restrictions imposed by Article 33, Subparagraph 2 were introduced for fear that defendants would tamper with or destroy evidence, Judicial Yuan Secretary-General Lu Tai-lang (呂太郎) said.
However, digitization of documents has removed such fears, and allowing defendants without legal representation access to such files would be better for such defendants, Lu said.
With approval of a judge and when it is safe, defendants are to be allowed to personally peruse all files and evidence, Department of Clerks for the Grand Justices Director Wang Pi-fang (王碧芳) said.
The Judicial Yuan submitted a draft amendment to effect the change to the Legislative Yuan on March 1, a source said, adding that, as the draft did not significantly differ from the constitutional interpretation, it would not be retracting the amendment.
The amendment should be passed by the end of the ongoing legislative session at the earliest, a source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Improving Human Rights under the Taiwan Judiciary Association director Ho Chung-ying (何俊英) said the constitutional interpretation places the prosecution and the defense on a level playing field.
The change is a good thing that could help increase public trust in the judiciary, Ho said.
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