The Nation's Justice System Must Not Be Undermined
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 30, 2010
The Taipei District Court has handed down its decision in the Lafayette Frigate case. Lei Hsueh-ming and several other naval officers have been found not guilty. The judge explained his decision, saying that prosecutors offered no evidence of illegal profiteering. These particular defendants had nothing to do with the kickbacks. The court decision vindicates Taipei District Prosecutor Huang Shi-ming, who refused to prosecute the defendants even though it cost him his job.
President Chen Shui-bian once vowed to prosecute this case "even if it shook the nation to its foundations." It has now been shown that prosecutors perverted the law by persisting in a wrongful prosecution. They undermined the authority of the justice system, and shook the foundations of the justice system.
Nine years ago, under pressure from Chen Shui-bian, Prosecutor-General Lu Jen-fa spoke to Huang Shi-ming for nine straight hours, deep into the night. But he could not persuade Huang Shi-ming to prosecute the Lafayette Frigate case. Huang Shi-ming, who had been Prosecutor General for only ten months, was immediately fired. As soon his replacement was found, the Lafayette Frigate case went ahead, in accordance with the wishes of higher ups. Today, after nine years of wrangling in the courts, this politically-motivated fiasco has been exposed for what it is -- wrongful prosecution.
The prosecutorial system is said to be "a unified system." Higher level prosecutors exercise considerable authority over lower level prosecutors. But in order to maintain the credibility of the prosecutorial system, they must resist political pressure, and ensure that prosecutors are able to prosecute cases immune from political interference. This of course is the Chief Prosecutor's job. But what if the Chief Prosecutor himself tolerates political interference, or even invites it from those in positions of power? What if prosecutors have no qualms about abusing their authority, and force subordinates to serve the needs of powerful politicians? Then they have debased themselves, turned the prosecutorial system into a political tool, and undermined the credibility of the prosecutorial system, When people lose respect for the nation's legal system, the consequences are serious indeed. Prosecutor General Huang Shi-ming has blown the lid off this case of intervention by the Chief Prosecutor. If the prosecutorial system fails to deal with this case in earnest, it cannot allay the nation's doubts.
The review and reform of the prosecutorial system must address at least two issues. First, it must seek accountability. If a prosecutor betrays his professional responsibility and enages in indiscriminate prosecutions, he has violated Article 25 of the Criminal Code, and is guilty of "abuse of prosecutorial authority." Some may say that the charges listed in this section exist in name only. Many cases have been handled outrageously. One never sees justice system officials prosecuting their own family members. Hou Kuan-jen falsified court records in an effort to railroad Ma Ying-jeou, but he was never punished for it. This is precisely why unscrupulous prosecutors who engage in arbitrary prosecutions for ulterior motives have nothing to fear. This is why whether the defendants are found guilty in this case or not, prosecutors must nevertheless clean house. They must be thorough. Even they find that no crimes were been committed, these cases must be investigated for dereliction of duty, as a warning to future offenders.
Secondly, the unified prosecutorial system must establish a monitoring system to limit the power of the chief prosecutor. Take the Lafayette Frigate case. When the prosecutor in charge disagreed with the original prosecutor, the chief prosecutor abused his authority by reassigning him and replacing him with someone more obedient. A unified prosecutorial system that repaces prosecutors with those more obedient hardly meets the requirements of justice. Therefore prosecutors must establish ground rules for chief prosecutors who reassign subordinates. Judges are assigned to one case and not another according to certain criteria. Once they have been assigned, they may not be arbitrarily reassigned. Prosectors are similar. They too must handle cases on a professional basis. The rules for by which they are assigned need not be as strict. But criteria must nevertheless be established. Otherwise the same problems will recur. When judges encounter conflicts of interest, they can be reassigned by a conference of presiding judges. The prosecutorial system must establish a similar mechanism for the prosecutors. This will allow subordinates to speak up on their own behalf.
The prosecutorial system must engage in self-examination. Prosecutors owe the defendants in the Lafayette Frigate case an explanation. Had the prosecutor in charge not been changed, Lei Hsueh-ming and the other naval officers might have been spared a ten year legal ordeal. They may have been acquitted, but have they really received justice? The case files have been examined under a microscope for the past ten years. The warship procurement process has been reviewed from beginning to end. Does the prosecution really intend to appeal?
The facts behind the Chen Shui-bian corruption case continue to emerge. One of the most shocking revelations is how the Chen regime undermined the independence of the judiciary. Bureau of Investigation Chief Yeh Sheng-mao served as President Chen's hatchetman. Justice Minister Shi Mao-lin, and Prosecutor General Chen Tsung-ming dined at the home of Chen Shui-bian crony Huang Fang-yan. Public Prosecutor General Lu Jen-fa pressured Taipei City Chief Prosecutor Huang Shi-ming to prosecute the Lafayette Frigate case. These scandals have shaken the foundations of the nation's justice system. It is now time to heal these wounds.
2010.06.30 01:48 am