Questions about judicial independence

I had a letter published in the Taipei Times today on the topic of judicial independence. The letter was written after the Taipei District Court handed down a not guilty verdict in Chen Shui-bian’s financial mergers case. However, after I sent the letter Chen was subsequently found guilty by the Supreme Court in the Longtan land deal case. An excellent article by J. Michael Cole in response to the Supreme Court decision asks the all important question, Was the judiciary independent?. My letter is pasted below.

An independent judiciary is a key foundation of democracy. So is the principle of being innocent until proven guilty.

However, the response to the not guilty verdict in the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) handed down by Taipei District Court on Nov. 5 shows there is still a lack of respect for these important principles in Taiwan.

The suggestion by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) politicians that voters show their discontent with the court’s verdict by voting for the KMT in upcoming elections shows contempt for judicial independence (“KMT urges voters to show discontent with Chen ruling,” Nov. 7, page 1).

Do these politicians believe that an electoral mandate for the KMT will result in Chen being found guilty in a subsequent trial?

Prosecutors also show a similar attitude. Special Investigation Panel spokesman Chen Hung-ta (陳宏達) is quoted as saying the “verdict is against the public’s concept of the law” (“Chen found not guilty in bribery trial,” Nov. 6, page 1).

There is no place for a court to function on the basis of public opinion. Decisions made by judges must be in accordance with the law and based on evidence. Furthermore, they must respect the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

The court’s verdict in Chen’s case shows that it made its decision according to these important principles.

The cases involving Chen have already exposed many problems with judicial rights. Judicial reform is very important for Taiwan to further strengthen its democracy and improve human rights.

It is difficult for judicial reform to succeed if politicians and prosecutors expect courts to act on the basis of public opinion rather than the principle of judicial independence.

2 thoughts on “Questions about judicial independence

  1. Good points. I wonder, perhaps you can enlighten me, how are judges selected for the supreme court in Taiwan?

    while in theory some might argue that there should be a disconnect between politics and judiciary and that people should be selected based on their merit alone, some of what we consider advanced democracies around the world appoint judges through a publicly represented committee (judges, sometimes lawyers, ministers and parliament members). In some of the European countries judges are influenced politically, but it is also said in some countries that judges are not to interfere or judge on political matters. I’ve always considered this a somewhat confusing area.

    Interesting.

  2. Fili, the main qualification for becoming a judge in Taiwan is passing an exam. Once qualified as a judge I assume promotions are a result of some internal process within the Ministry of Justice. Perhaps somebody else reading this might be able to fill in more details.

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