When the new legislative session starts at the end of the month, Premier William Lai (賴清德), who took office on Friday last week, will have to face legislators in general question-and-answer sessions.
A lot of people are wondering how he will handle questions about labor issues and pension reform for military personnel.
Apart from these issues, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucus will prioritize legislation related to judicial reform, and it intends to enact some of the organizational restructuring and other proposals made by the National Congress on Judicial Reform, which held its summary meeting on Aug. 12.
This will fulfill one of the campaign pledges made by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) before she was elected, namely to make the judiciary into one that the public can trust.
This is an appropriate time to remind the legislature that it must rid the justice system of the toxins left over from the authoritarian era. Only then can the judiciary gain the trust of the public.
The regimes of former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) froze all kinds of rules that provided people with safeguards, turning the judiciary into a band of henchmen who helped the dictatorship get rid of its political opponents.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) happily used all kinds of rewards to absorb the entire judiciary into its web of complicity.
For example, for a long time the KMT collaborated with entities such as the Four Seas Gang and the Bamboo Union, and established a symbiotic relationship between prosecutors and organized crime.
Until quite recently, it was still quite common to hear reports about law enforcement officials shielding vice and gambling rackets, as well as obstructing investigations and evidence gathering.
In one of her speeches, Tsai asked rhetorically whether everyone who lived under authoritarian rule chose to be obedient.
During the authoritarian period, principles that apply in countries under the rule of law were shelved. From the point of view of human nature, one would not expect law enforcement officials of those days to stand up and resist tyranny.
Nowadays we enjoy freedom and the rule of law, but it still seems unlikely that judicial personnel who are used to obeying could, within a short time, break free of the bad habits formed over many long years and learn how to investigate and judge cases independently.
The way in which a judge was summarily replaced in the case against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the opaque manner in which prosecutors and the Special Investigation Division conducted the investigation involving then-legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and DPP Legislator Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) are solid proof that some judicial personnel still do not act independently.
This is even more true of police officers, who serve on the judicial system’s front line.
When a student at a police training institute posted comments online criticizing people protesting pension reform, several former students of the institute threatened to make sure that the poster would not last in the police force.
The institute did nothing about the threats.
The police’s treatment of protests by retired former students compared with how they dealt with ordinary members of the public makes it hard for people to believe that such an organization can resist interference by its superiors or other powerful people.
Furthermore, it is well known that forbears’ traditions have greater weight than teaching about the rule of law at the Central Police University and the Taiwan Police College.
How can police who have been trained like this gain trust?
Of course, it is undeniable that judicial personnel have in recent years made considerable progress in terms of independence and professionalism. Nonetheless, the most pressing issue for judicial reform is how to excise the culture of obedience, which is a holdover from the authoritarian era that is still pervasive among judicial personnel, as well as the complicity that allows all kinds of outside interference.
Only by making a clean break with authoritarianism can the judiciary overcome the memories that have been deeply implanted in people’s minds over the decades.
There are three fundamental suggestions for lawmakers who claim to give high priority to judicial reform:
First, improve and oversee the independence of judicial personnel.
Second, eliminate the pervasive culture of obedience among judicial personnel.
Third, deconstruct the webs of complicity left over from the authoritarian era.
If the toxic legacy of authoritarianism in the judiciary keeps being overlooked, judicial reform will never succeed.
Lau Yi-te is chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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