It is commonplace for judicial officers to address social doubts over their rulings and charges that they are “dinosaur judges” by saying that members of the public think that way only because they neither participated in the proceedings nor reviewed relevant documents. The food safety case involving Ting Hsin International Group (頂新集團) is a case in point. After reading the Nov. 27 ruling on Ting Hsin, it is difficult not to feel alarmed that the judiciary is teetering on the brink of collapse.
The 180,000-word ruling references legal theory and arguments to the extent that it almost reads like a doctoral dissertation, seemingly to put on display the hard work of the judges and the pressure that they were under.
The ruling places considerable emphasis on the principle of evidentiary adjudication and the presumption of innocence, among other criminal law principles. Perhaps it shows that the judges have taken the interests of the accused to heart, but it also implies that in most other criminal cases, presumption of guilt is upheld instead. The public cannot help but wonder if the fundamental protection of the right of the accused is only limited to the rich and does not apply to everyone else.
The ruling is not only lengthy, but also filled with difficult and dry language. Perhaps even professors of criminal law would find it incomprehensible. Since the text is hard to understand, the grounds for Ting Hsin’s acquittal are bound to be interpreted in many different ways, or understood in bits and pieces, and then interpreted in fragments.
For instance, most of the public believe that Ting Hsin was found not guilty largely because the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation (食品安全衛生管理法) only regulates cooking oil — the goods — not raw oil, the raw material. This has led some to joke that refined dog shit might also be considered edible. Whether this aptly describes the ruling is difficult to ascertain. In particular, Article 3 of the food safety act includes “raw materials” in its definition of “foods.” To say that this act does not apply to raw oil contradicts the law.
Some lawmakers have suggested that the food safety act be revised by including raw oil in the regulation. This raises the question if doing so would mean the legislature acknowledges that the current act does not, in fact, regulate raw oil.
If so, during a second trial, however much evidence prosecutors provide to prove the substandard quality of the raw oil, the judges would have to acquit the accused on the grounds that there is no crime and no punishment based on the principle that laws are not retroactive.
If Ting Hsin is found not guilty in the first and second trials, the Speedy Criminal Trials Act (刑事妥速審判法) stipulates that prosecutors cannot appeal the verdict further, which will put an end to the case.
Consequently, former Ting Hsin International Group executive Wei Ying-chun (魏應充) and the other defendants, who were detained previously, would be entitled to receive compensation paid for by taxpayers. Is it not absurd?
The court should not base its authority on impractical theories and incomprehensible wording. It should serve justice for all, not just a handful of privileged individuals, so that the public can put their faith in it.
Wu Ching-chin is an associate professor and chair of Aletheia University’s law department.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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