The Judicial Yuan is advocating the transformation of the civilian litigation system into a pyramid-like structure, with the majority of cases being tried in trials of the first and second instance, while reserving the judicial resources of the trial of third instance for cases involving major legal controversies.
As part of this initiative, the Judicial Yuan has been studying draft amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure that would reduce caseloads by significantly raising the requirements for the trying of civil cases on appeal, while at the same time ensuring that only viable cases, based on their merits, go through trials of the first and second instance.
This proposed reform was initially intended to reduce the length of trials, and to concentrate judicial resources on trials of the first and second instance to improve the quality of court rulings, which is indeed laudable.
However, in practice, according to 2020 statistics from the Supreme Court, about 30 percent of the rulings handed down by the court of second instance were thrown out or remanded on appeal during the trial of third instance.
That is, the Supreme Court ruled that about 30 percent of the judgements of the courts of second instance were found to be flawed and not in accordance with the law.
With the quality of decisions not up to standard, raising the threshold for third instance appeals is likely to result in more wrongful convictions being allowed to stand.
That is not to say that the pyramid structure for the litigation system proposed by the Judicial Yuan should not be pursued; however, attention should be paid to the establishment of supporting measures to address the concerns of placing unnecessary restrictions on the public’s right to litigation and to prevent flawed rulings resulting in more wrongful convictions.
To avoid wrongful convictions, the Judicial Yuan should look at ways to improve the quality of the first and second trial rulings.
Judges who preside over trials of first and second instance have caseloads so heavy that they are under considerable time pressure. The judges often do not have the time to handle cases in the detailed manner that they deserve.
The government should increase the number of trial judges so that they can devote more time and effort to the cases on their docket. The Judicial Yuan should also refer to how these matters are handled in other countries.
By bolstering the regulations pertaining to mandatory representation by lawyers, public defense and legal assistance in litigation cases, the Judicial Yuan would give lawyers more opportunities to intervene in litigation cases.
This could enhance the efficiency of litigation, improve the protection of the rights of the respective parties and reduce the occurrence of frivolous litigation.
All of this should considerably improve the quality of rulings in the first and second trials.
The structure of the judicial system is closely related to the rights and interests of the public in trials. The civil litigation reform bill proposed by the Judicial Yuan requires further discussion with all shareholders on how to improve the system.
Otherwise, even though the legislation is well-intentioned, the public might still suffer wrongful convictions if the reforms are flawed in practice, which would mean that people’s rights are not being protected.
Chris Chen is a lawyer.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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