The National Judge Act (國民法官法) as passed by the Legislature Yuan on Wednesday would allow career judges to dominate the process and have the final say in forming a ruling, Judicial Reform Foundation chairman Lin Yung-sung (林永頌) said yesterday.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) pushed the act through its third reading so that the nation could have lay judges for the prosecution of criminal cases, “but it was very unfair to exclude a jury system from consideration, as most of the public supports the idea,” Lin said.
Lay judges, termed “national judges,” are to take part in deliberations for crimes warranting a prison term of at least 10 years or premeditated crimes that resulted in death, the act states, adding that the collegiate bench is to consist of three career judges and six national judges, who are to be randomly chosen from Republic of China citizens aged 23 or older who have lived in the court’s jurisdiction for at least four months.
“Under this framework, with career and lay judges determining a verdict, people serving as national judges will become obedient and acquiesce to those in higher authority,” Lin said, citing the system in Japan, where surveys showed that 39 percent of lay judge respondents said that their decision was influenced by the career judges.
Asked why judicial reform groups like his are fighting for a jury trial system, Lin said: “It is because most people do not trust our judicial system and career judges — only about 30 percent of the public trust them, according to our surveys.”
In Taiwan, many people are demanding to participate in the deliberations and determination of the verdicts, up to about 70 to 80 percent of the public, Lin said, adding that jury trials are used in many countries, including in the US and Britain, where juries have been used for hundreds of years.
Survey results show that more than 80 percent of people support a “twin track” proposal, where jury and lay judge systems would be tried for a number of years before one would be adopted, Lin said.
“This has been the stance of the Judicial Reform Foundation, but, unfortunately, the DPP opposed it,” Lin added.
Yesterday, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that the legal framework contained in the act is the one best suited for Taiwan at this time, given the nation’s judicial system and social conditions, and the practical implementation of a lay judge system.
“Too much time had been spent debating the pros and cons of the lay judge system and the jury system,” she said. “I look forward for our citizens being involved as judges.”
“I promised judicial reform,” she said. “In the past, the judicial system did not allow people to participate in the process. In the case of serious crimes against society, people often questioned the verdicts and voiced their doubts, which diminished the public’s trust in the fairness of the system — this is what we have strived with much effort to change.”
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