The Court Must Restore Trust in Its RulingsUnited Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 26, 2010
After several months of searching, President Ma Ying-jeou has appointed Lai Hao-min President of the Judicial Yuan, and Su Yung-ching Vice President. The newly appointed Lai said that the public can no longer tolerate corrupt judges. People have taken all they can take. But corruption-free judges should be a given. The newly appointed president must do more than eliminate corruption. He must restore public trust in the court's rulings. He must restore public confidence in the justice system.
Recently, the number of judicial scandals exploded. Under nearly two decades of ineffectual "judicial self-management," several judges accepted bribes, another attempted to influence the outcome of his son's trial, another devoted more time and energy to his hobby than his duties as a judge, another used his illicit lover as a go between, others consorted with defendants, still others issued rulings utterly inconsistent with common sense. Their perversions of the law and abuses of power have opened the eyes of the public. Even the highest levels of the judicial system have come under suspicion, and seriously undermined confidence in the administration of justice.
In the short term, the new president must clean house and appoint new personnel. He must ensure that trials are once again fair. Cleaning house is not that difficult. The new president must start small. He must set an example. He must decline to attend unnecessary banquets. He must ensure that austerity once again becomes the judicial norm. Judges must no longer be wined and dined by criminal defendants. The air must be cleared. Clean officials must be appointed. The new appointees must be responsible individuals, unfraid to give offense, and willing to make tough administrative decisions. Those seeking favors or backdoor opportunities, those who care more about holding office than assuring justice, and bureaucrats adept at evading responsibility, need not apply. The new president has taken office. The secretary general will resign. The deputy secretary general, the president of the high court, and the president of the Kaohsiung Branch of the Judicial Yuan will all have to be replaced. The new president's first set of personnel appointments must demonstrate a commitment to integrity and responsibility. Only then can he restore the integrity of the justice system.
In addition to cleaning houseand appointing new personnel, rehabilitating the justice system will require breaking up the tight little circles judges currently inhabit. Judges place too high a value on seniority. They defer too much to their superiors. They care more about the judgment of insiders than the judgment of the outside world. They have forfeited their independence. They have formed tight little circles. That is why influence-peddling within their circles is taken for granted. That is why they have forgotten that their raison d'etre is to provide justice for the people. These tight little circles must be broken. Only then will judges have the courage to take responsibility for their rulings.
The new president should immediately examine the role of judges' assistants. He must ensure that presiding judges are actually doing what they are paid to do. He must establish ethical standards and job discipline. He must institute internal controls. He must improve discipline and eliminate indolence. He must root out judges who live abnormal lives. He must find ways to punish and eliminate them. He must show that the justice system is determined to clean house.
Nearly two decades of judicial self-oversight has revealed that judges are too susceptible to emotional appeals. They are unwilling to even criticize their peers, let alone punish them. Therefore we must implement a cabinet system. The cabinet chief's authority must be limited, and commensurate with his responsibilities. This will reverse the harm done by untrammeled judicial self-management.
If one wishes to prevent judicial rulings clearly beyond the pale, one must eliminate undue influence. One must ensure judicial independence. The new president must supervise and assist trial judges, because judicial independence will ensure the quality of judicial rulings, and help regain public trust. If judicial independence creates a sanctuary for judicial abuse of authority however, then judicial independence is rendered meaningless. Only quality judicial rulings can guarantee justice.
Of course, the newly appointed president and vice president of the Judicial Yuan must also minimize concerns about their political affiliations or political positions. There must be no doubts about their impartiality. Lai Hao-min was once an attorney. Attorneys and legal aid groups are the main force behind judicial reform. Lai must convince judges that his administrative decisions will be unbiased, will be in the best interest of the trial process, and that judicial reform will be effective. Su Yung-ching cast many doubts on Judicial Yuan reorganization and reform in the past. Now however, he will be working with Lai. Everyone hopes their roles as professionals will count for more than their friendship with President Ma. Lai and Su must redouble their efforts. They must prove themselves by walking the walk, as well as talking the talk.
Judicial reform is a monumental undertaking. In addition to short term reforms, there must be mid term reform and long term reforms. These include procedural law reforms, changing the way judges are created, improving the structure of the Judicial Yuan, and evaluating the feasibility of a jury system. But some reforms do not require amending the law. They do not require waiting for the results of another judicial reform conference. Judicial credibility has reached new lows. The new president and the judges must adopt extraordinary measures. They must reform the system. They must get serious about cleaning house. Only then can they meet public expectations regarding judicial integrity and the credibility of judicial rulings.
The public can no longer tolerate unjust and slipshod judicial rulings. The new president and vice president of the Judicial Yuan have only one job -- to restore public confidence in judicial rulings. They must do so not merely for litigants, but for society as a whole. Everyone must believe that judicial rulings are uncorrupt and fair.
2010.08.26 03:01 am