The decision last week by the Edinburgh District Court in Scotland that British businessman Zain Dean should be extradited back to Taiwan to serve his sentence for killing newspaper delivery man Huang Chun-te (黃俊德) is quite rightly being seen as a victory for justice.
However the diplomatic triumph it heralds is even more significant.
Convicted on March 25, 2010 of killing newspaper deliveryman Huang Chun-te while driving under the influence of alcohol, Dean was given a four-year term for driving under the influence of alcohol, involuntary manslaughter and fleeing the scene of an accident. But he absconded on Aug. 14, 2012, using the passport of his friend Christopher David Churcher.
Photo: Fang pin-chao, taipei times
From his sanctuary in the UK, Dean has besmirched the Taiwanese legal system and questioned its legitimacy. He has claimed not to have had a fair trial, questioned the prosecutors handling of evidence, argued that his treatment in prison here will contravene human rights laws and even had the audacity to offer to return if the Taiwanese authorities agreed to four of his conditions.
This demand was refused, and prosecutors and the government went about negotiations with their British counterparts in a scrupulously efficient manner.
These efforts, led by UK Representative Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡), in London, led to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UK on the extradition of prisoners between the two countries, signed on Oct. 16. This is an approach the UK has been very keen on in recent years as it looks to reduce the number of foreign nationals in custody there. But with only two Taiwanese nationals currently in the UK prison system, to have secured an agreement so swiftly, with the usual diplomatic challenges to overcome, is a huge achievement.
Ongoing engagement with the Scottish police to ensure Dean was arrested the day after the signing, to avoid him absconding again, is also hugely to their credit.
While much of the negotiating has been done, Dean’s extradition is still far from certain. The final decision on the extradition of all UK nationals abroad rests ultimately with the relevant government official — in this case Scottish Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill.
MacAskill has a history of controversial extradition decisions. In 2009, he authorized the release on compassionate grounds of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan national convicted of blowing up an airliner over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 270 people. Al-Megrahi had terminal cancer and was supposed to only have weeks to live, yet he survived until 2012. The decision proved extremely damaging to Scottish relations with the US, whose citizens made up the majority of the victims.
MacAskill has eight weeks to make this decision, and can expect to be lobbied hard from interested parties on both sides. Taipei’s representative will make representations, as will the British Foreign Office, and other interested parties, including, perhaps, the Chinese authorities.
Despite these external pressures the decision is for him alone, and the MOU makes it highly likely that the extradition will be approved. Dean will then have the right to appeal the decision to the Scottish High Court, and then the UK Supreme Court and even the European Court of Human Rights, all of which could take time.
Regardless of the final outcome for Dean, the diplomatic precedent this case sets is a big step forward in Anglo-Taiwanese affairs.
Firstly, should a similar case occur again, justice will now be served more efficiently.
Secondly, the case saw a significant moment in British recognition of Taiwan. During extradition proceedings, defense lawyers were informed that questioning Taiwan’s sovereign status was voided by the memorandum as it showed that the UK government acknowledges Taiwan as a political entity, regardless of the presence of official diplomatic relations. This recognition from a British court of law is the first for many years.
In addition, an earlier ruling from the High Court in London enforced a fine handed down to Dean in a Taiwanese Court and in doing so acknowledged the legitimacy of the Taiwanese legal system.
These successes have been rather played down in the official statements.
Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said the ruling was “a great example of mutual judicial cooperation.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the decision as “another important milestone” and “a positive precedent … for mutual judicial assistance between Taipei and the UK.”
The most positive comment came from Shen Lyu-shun, now representative in the US, who told CNA there that the ruling benefitted Taiwan’s legal status.
In terms of relations with the UK, he is absolutely right. This is more than just a legal agreement. It is an opportunity, and if handled correctly could be the foundation of continuing improvements in Anglo-Taiwanese, and broader Euro-Taiwanese relations.
It just remains to be seen if the new London representative, Liu Chih-kung (劉志攻), and his team in London can capitalize on this golden opportunity.
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