United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 3, 2015
Executive Summary: The six “not guilty” verdicts in the Ding Hsin rancid cooking oil case have provoked universal condemnation of the justice system. The Changhua District Court explained its verdict in a series of press releases over three days, but failed to quell public outrage. Food safety issues impact everyone's health. One-sided criticisms from the general public and netizens is understandable. But the intelligentsia piled on as well. They attacked the court, saying it makes us the laughingstock of the world. Legislators even want to amend the law to limit judicial discretion. Now that is truly frightening.
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The six “not guilty” verdicts in the Ding Hsin rancid cooking oil case have provoked universal condemnation of the justice system. The Changhua District Court explained its verdict in a series of press releases over three days, but failed to quell public outrage. Food safety issues impact everyone's health. One-sided criticisms from the general public and netizens is understandable. But the intelligentsia piled on as well. They attacked the court, saying it makes us the laughingstock of the world. Legislators even want to amend the law to limit judicial discretion. Now that is truly frightening.
The Changhua District Court dared to defy public opinion. It reached a verdict that did not conform to public expectations. We admire their courage. Given the public mood, it is easy enough for a district court judge to hand down a ruling that conforms to public expectations. He or she may even win public applause. This time however, the judges were willing to ignore public sentiment and rule according to the evidence. If the evidence is insufficient, an acquittal is mandatory. Such firmness does not mean that "justice is dead". On the contrary, it means that hope for justice on Taiwan remains alive.
Public reaction to the verdict is testimony to rampant populism on Taiwan. For every issue, there is only one acceptable position, the Politically Correct position. Anyone who defies majority opinion is attacked mercilessly. This is true for social media, and this is true for mass media. Politicians of all stripes seize every opportunity to cast the first stone. Anyone or any group can instantly become Public Enemy Number One, and be beaten black and blue. Any attempt at in-depth discussion of ideas, is drowned out by hysterical denunciations. Even more unfortunately, the intelligenstia, ostensibly the last bastion of truth, sings the same tune. How can anyone feel safe in such an atmosphere?
The recent District Court verdict shows that the judge was clearly reluctant to go along with public sentiment. The judge said the prosecution failed to provide clear evidence of guilt. Therefore, based on the presumption of innocence, he found the defendant not guilty. His verdict contained an apparent response to public opinion. The judge said the basic premise during criminal proceedings is the "presumption of innocence", not "answering to the public."
Permit us to quote this passage in his judgment: "Had we handed down a different verdict, the public might be happier. But we cannot pander to public sentiment merely to please everyone, and render decisions that win public applause. The defendant's fundamental rights during criminal proceedings must not be sacrificed to appease public opinion." These words reveal the extent to which District Court judges these days are subject to outside pressure. They also reveal the judges' steadfast adherence to fundamental values.
Tell the truth. Was their steadfastness wrong? Taiwan has trumpeted the rule of law for years. Is not the presumption of innocence one of the most important rule of law values? The masses who do not understand the truth may ignore this basic principle. But judges who wield the scales of justice may not.
Suppose all judges on Taiwan danced to the tune of public sentiment? Whatever the mob wants, that is how the judges rule. How terrifying would that be? Why would we still need trial courts? We could return to the era of lynch law. Wouldn't that be far more emotionally satisfying? But everyone knows that if we were to take that step, the very rule of law we long for would vanish before our eyes.
People are out for blood. Amidst such an atmosphere, we are glad that some judges on Taiwan can defy mob sentiment. They are our last line of defense. They wield the scales of justice. To pander to public sentiment is easy. To adhere to one's principles and defy public wrath is difficult. Especially when even university presidents have jumped on the bandwagon. That some judges insist on the presumption of innocence, proves that Taiwan has yet to be completely hijacked by populism, and that some people are still willing to defend their core values.
Of course, just because the court acquitted a defendant, does not mean the defendant bears no responsibility. Nor does it mean that food safety is unimportant. The legal process has merely taken its first step. The prosecution has indicated that it will appeal within 10 days. It has expressed confidence in a "Reversal of Fortune" during the second instance trial. The Minister of Justice has openly expressed support, saying the battle is not over. He has warned second instance prosecutors that in order to reverse the verdict, populist sentiment is not enough. The first instance judge ruled "insufficient evidence". Therefore second instance prosecutors must produce more evidence, leaving the guilty no room to escape. Only then will justice prevail.
The primary responsibility for food safety belongs to the government. Industry must operate under legal constraints and tough industry management. The executive and legislative branches must assume responsibility, and quickly mend loopholes in the law.
儘管彰化地院一連3天發新聞稿對外說明，依舊無法平息眾怒。 食安問題事關全民健康， 一般民眾與網路鄉民的直覺性反彈與不對稱性批評可以理解， 但社會菁英與知識領袖都加入圍剿，抨擊法院判決「 讓全世界看笑話」，立委甚至還想修法限縮法官的裁量權， 就令人駭異了。
不能不令人佩服其勇氣可嘉。要知道，在當前的輿論氛圍下， 地院法官只要順大家意，做個符合社會期待的判決，一點都不困難， 還可能會贏得眾人的掌聲，但法官這回顯然不願順群眾情緒而行， 還是要計較證據充分，如果舉證不足，該判無罪的就是判無罪， 這種堅持，所凸顯的絕不是什麼「司法已死」，恰恰相反， 它甚至還讓人對台灣司法有全新的期待。
每樁爭議只允許一種立場、一種觀點，凡不符眾議者， 一律予以無情的圍剿，社群媒體如此，大眾媒體亦復如是， 不分黨派的政客們更是爭先恐後見縫插針、落井下石， 任何人或是任何團體可以在頃刻間淪為全民公敵， 被圍剿得遍體鱗傷，任何企盼深入討論的見解， 都會被淹沒在情緒撻伐的口水裡。更遺憾的是， 原本代表社會清議最後堡壘的知識菁英， 也同樣以情緒語言隨之起舞，這般的氛圍，如何不令人感到難安？
可以很清楚地呈現法官何以不願跟著大眾情緒走。 法官認為檢方無法明確舉證，因此基於無罪推定原則， 判決被告無罪。判決書中有幾句話， 明顯是在回應這幾天社會輿論的圍剿。法官所強調的是， 刑事訴訟的基本精神是「無罪推定」，不是「給社會一個交代」。
如果我們做了不一樣的判決，也許民眾會比較高興， 但我們不能媚於輿論，只為了大快人心， 做出令民眾歡欣鼓舞的討好判決；被告刑事程序上的基本權利， 不應作為安撫民意的祭品。」這幾句話， 充分道出了這幾天地院法官所承受的外界壓力， 當然也充分呈現了他們所堅持的價值底線。
無罪推定原則」不正就是其中一個重要的價值？這個基本原則， 不諳事實真相的群眾可以不理會， 但手執司法天秤的法官卻不能不堅持。
民粹偏好的方向是什麼，法官就朝著那個方向判決， 那將會是一個多麼可怕的境地？我們何嘗還需要法院審判， 倒回到原始時代用民眾公審，用私刑解決豈不是更大快人心？ 但誰都清楚，真要走到那一步，我們長期所堅持的法治精神， 也就全面崩解了。
我們反倒慶幸台灣還有一些法官，能夠無畏社會輿論的圍剿， 守住司法天秤的最後一道防線。要知道， 想要討好大眾偏好是容易的，要甘犯眾怒堅守原則卻是困難的， 特別是在連大學校長都跟著民粹走之後，法官還是堅持「 無罪推定原則」到底，證明台灣還沒有全面被民粹攻陷， 還有一些領域是在堅守價值底線的。
更不意味食安問題不重要。司法程序才剛走完初審， 檢方也已表明了10天內將提起上訴，而且宣稱有信心會在二審「 逆轉勝」，法務部長更是公開相挺，這場戰役還未打完， 寄語準備拚二審的檢察諸公，要想逆轉勝， 僅憑民粹輿論的情緒相挺是絕對不夠，法官既然認為「罪證不足」， 就在二審拿出更有利的證據出來，讓真正有罪者全無躲閃空間， 那才是真正在踐履司法正義。