Monday, October 1, 2007

Judicial Reform that has forgotten the People

Judicial Reform that has forgotten the People
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
October 01, 2007

Chairman of the Judicial Yuan Weng Yueh-sheng resigned today. The judicial reform project he led for eight years has come to naught, to his eternal regret. Reform of any kind is never easy. Judicial reform is no exception. One can find a million reasons for the failure of Weng's reforms. But at the root of Weng's defeat lies a loss in his reformist faith, an erosion of his concern for the ordinary citizen, a gradual scaling down of ambitions, an incremental compromising of his self-respect, until one day it's all over, and it's time for someone else to take over.

The first obstacle Weng's judicial reform had to cope with was political interference with the judiciary. In terms of constitutional structure, the judiciary is weak in comparison with the other branches of government. In confrontations with the power of the executive or the legislature, all the judiciary can count on is the moral support of public opinion. In the past, public faith in the judiciary was lacking, primarily because the judiciary was under the political control of the executive. But with the lifting of martial law and regime change, the judiciary had a golden opportunity to turn over a new leaf and become truly independent. Weng Yueh-sheng stood astride this historic watershed.

Weng Yueh-sheng led the Judicial Yuan for eight years and eight months. During the last seven and half years, his one-time student Chen Shui-bian was president. A president with a legal background, who represents "native" political forces. Had Chen elected to work with his teacher Weng Yueh-sheng, the two could have ushered in a new era of judicial independence, a new era of political stability, a new exemplar of constitutional rule. Instead, and this is what makes one tear one's hair out, they turned back the clock of justice.

Chen Shui-bian forgot his history. He forgot the ringing declarations he once uttered on street corners and in the halls of parliament. As president, how many times has he cavalierly belittled the judiciary? Forget talk of judicial independence. Chen abused his power as president, humiliating the judiciary for the sake of narrow political advantage. The judiciary has desperately needed an image makeover for the past eight years. The appointment of Weng Yueh-sheng was critical. Yet he chose to hide behind the excuse that "the judiciary should not intervene in politics." Citing the separation of powers as a pretext, Weng allowed his student, the president, to do as he damn well pleased. Weng failed to realize that without public trust in the judiciary, he had nothing. No matter what he did, people would presume political intervention. Weng Yueh-sheng claimed he was unwilling to intervene in politics. What he really meant was he was unwilling to disobey the president. What he really meant was he was afraid to defy political forces bent on humiliating the judiciary.

When push came to shove, Weng Yueh-sheng cut and ran. An opportunity to restore public trust in the judiciary, to put the past behind, to demonstrate genuine independence, was lost forever. Instead the judiciary carried on as usual, making endless concessions to political authority. Chen Shui-bian and Weng Yueh-sheng failed to demonstrate concern for the people. They failed to return to the essential nature of justice, concern for the common man. They forgot the meaning of judicial reform. They forfeited the opportunity make judicial reform a reality.

The second obstacle judicial reform had to face, was the same obstacle every kind of reform always has to face. When the branches of government check and balance each other, the guiding principle must always be concern for the people. Otherwise, it is reform, but the division of spoils.

Judicial reform involves many levels. The court system, the prosecutorial system, police agencies, defense attornies, and law schools. Each have their own views. In 1999, Weng Yueh-sheng became Chief of the Judicial Yuan. This inspired judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and law professors to organize national judicial reform conferences, arriving at a wide range of conclusions. The movement could have become the driving force behind calls for judicial reform, for a "grand confluence" of the legal world. It could have united the legal world behind a common consensus, promoted reorganization of the judiciary, reform of the appeals process, and tightening of civil law procedures, allowing people to receive swifter justice. The number of cases could have been reduced. Judges' case loads could have been lightened. Unnecessary bureaucracies could have been eliminated.

Justice delayed is justice denied. The goal of such reforms was to ensure swift justice. Reorganization and restructuring could have waited until conditions were right. Instead conceptual reforms were implemented concurrently with the reorganization of the judiciary and the reform of the appeals process. Reformers failed to anticipate the predictable reaction of special interests. Reduced case loads meant reduced attorney fees. As a result, special interests either boycotted the reforms, or colluded with political interests to resist their implementation.

Specific maladies require specific cures. Proposed solutions must address human motivations. They must improve communication during "third instance" appeals, radically transform the trial process, get back to people oriented reform, and reform the appeals process, allowing people to receive swifter justice. Prior to the implementation of such reforms, administrative oversight must allow corrupt judges no leeway, in order to ensure fair trials. But Weng Yueh-sheng seldom came in contact with ordinary citizens mired in the trial process. He did not feel their pain. It was easy for special interest groups or disgruntled judges to persuade him to back off.

Had Weng Yueh-sheng understood the necessity of "Justice for All," he might have been able to establish a fearless new climate in which legal reformers could operate. Alas, Weng Yueh-sheng, who first assumed the post of Grand Justice in 1972, was unable to liberate himself from his self-imposed bonds. He was unable to display the character and dedication to the people and the law necessary to make him more than a passing figure in the history of judicial reform.

2007.10.01 02:38 am











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