Hsiao Yang-kui Should Have Retired Immediately
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 16, 2011
Summary: Supreme Court Judge Hsiao Yang-kui's son was involved in hit and run accident. Hsiao was suspended for six months, then applied for reinstatement. At the urging of the Judicial Yuan, he was reinstated but also forced to retire. If a judge is found guilty of exerting undue influence, he may no longer preside over court cases. Society considers this necessary, and so it must be. Hsiao Yang-kui inititally sought reinstatement in order to return to his job. But he was forced into retirement by public pressure.
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Supreme Court Judge Hsiao Yang-kui's son was involved in hit and run accident. Hsiao was suspended for six months, then applied for reinstatement. At the urging of the Judicial Yuan, he was reinstated but also forced to retire. If a judge is found guilty of exerting undue influence, he may no longer preside over court cases. Society considers this necessary, and so it must be. Hsiao Yang-kui inititally sought reinstatement in order to return to his job. But he was forced into retirement by public pressure.
Undue influence undermines justice. For the credibility of the court system, it is lethal. Historically, only three categories of people have been able to influence the court system. They are those who wield political influence, those who wield administrative authority, and judges, prosecutors, and other court system insiders.
Take those who wield political influence. The most famous example occurred in 1994. Lin Ping-kun, a Member of the Legislature, was a suspect in the China Petroleum wastewater scandal. KMT Secretary-General Hsu Shui-teh telephoned the President of the Taipei District Court, Hu Chih-chung. He asked Hu to delay announcement of the verdict, and allow additional time for deliberation. He even joked that the courts were run by the KMT.
During the 1990s, Tainan District Court Judge Hsieh Shuo-jung, going strictly by the book, submitted the verdict for the Tainan County Nan Kunshen Dai Tianfu slander case to another judge for review. President Wang Hsing-jen then "communicated" with Hsieh Shuo-jung. Hsieh secretly recorded their conversation, including Wang's remark, "Why is the sentence so harsh?" Once the truth emerged, the public was outraged. The President of the Judicial Yuan transferred Wang to a court in another jurisdiction. The system by which other judges would review the verdict before it was announced was subsequently abolished.
As democracy matures, those able to exert political influence and wield administrative authority find themselves less able to influence the court system. Ironically, officials within the court system have come to consider the lobbying of court system officials as "no big deal." Hsiao Yang-kui exerted undue influence on behalf of his son. He remained on suspension until he qualified for reinstatement. From this we can see the implicit standards officials within the court system hold, and how remote their notion of justice is from that of the public.
Hsiao Yang-kui feared that his son, who was studying law, would end up with a criminal record, that he would be washed out during the oral examination stage. Hsiao exerted undue influence in the hope of obtaining a not guilty verdict. His efforts led to a first instance guilty verdict with a suspended sentence. But Hsiao was not satisfied. He made another attempt during the second instance trial. He was determined to get a not guilty verdict. Hsiao's conduct revealed his implicit attitudes. As Hsiao saw it, he was, after all, not guilty of corruption. What father wouldn't do everything in his power to protect his own child? What's wrong with Hsiao putting in a good word for his son? Judges who exerted undue influence in the past received a slap on the wrist. Others who exerted undue influence received nothing more than a demerit. So what if Hsiao was forced to retire. He was disciplined for exerting undue influence on behalf of his son, nothing more.
These are the implicit attitudes of officials within judicial circles. Their attitudes are utterly incomprehensible to those outside judicial circles. Hsiao is implicitly inculcating such attitudes in his own son. He is characterizing the exertion of undue influence as "removing obstacles." He has put his selfish interests above the interests of justice. He has set the worst possible example. Whether a judge is corrupt is hardly the standard by which judicial conduct should be evaluated. Not being corrupt hardly merits a medal. Not being corrupt does not confer the right to grant special treatment to other court system insiders. A Supreme Court judgeship is a high honor and a weighty responsibility. How can we allow it to become synonymous with the exertion of undue influence in first and second instance court cases?
In the past, the punishment for undue influence was a slap on the wrist. But that was then. This is now. Today that cannot be our standard of reference. The exertion of undue influence constitues a fundamental perversion of justice. Judges who have knowingly exerted undue influence, must step down. There is nothing more to discuss. Even political parties and executive branch officials may not exert undue influence on the court system. How can judges be permitted to cite personal relationships as a justification for undue influence and backroom deals?
What defendant is not someone's son or daughter? Most people count themselves lucky if they can find a competent lawyer, and have their case adjudicated by a fair-minded judge. Officials within the court system cover up for their fellows, yet act as if they have done nothing wrong. What kind of attitude is that?
Hsiao Yang-kui had the temerity to thumb his nose at the public, and to ignore the law. He dared to do so because the civil service disciplinary committee merely imposed a six month suspension, before reinstating him as a judge. Fellow judges, particularly judges his age, overtly or covertly covered up for him. They argued that undue influence exerted on behalf of one's own child did not warrant a major demerit. This enabled Hsiao to evince utter contempt for public sentiment.
This climate of hypocrisy dulled their sense of the evil of undue influence. It diminished court system officials' sense of shame. It frittered away the victories won by court system officials along the way. These court system officials rid the court system of undue influence exerted by those with political influence and administrative authority, only to have the court system become the private instrument of decadent judges. These decadent judges trample over the Judges Law, whose purpose is to safeguard judicial independence. The Judges Law, which liberated judges from the constraints of the civil service system, now enables them to cover up each others' crimes.
When the Supreme Court addressed the Hsiao Yang-kui undue influence case, it cited an ancient proverb, to rally public sentiment. It urged the public not to "yield to human passions, give free reign to joy and anger, indulge in cronyism, fear bold and heroic gestures, feel anxiety about disasters." It urged the public to unite to establish a system of justice worthy of emulation. It said that such a system would not happen by itself. It would have to be created incrementally, through case law, and that reinstating Hsiao Yang-kui would be the ideal beginning.
A Supreme Court judge decided to exert undue influence. It matter not for whom it was done. It was a perversion of justice. If the court system wants public respect, judges must be impartial guardians of justice. No one may be permitted to exert undue influence on the court system. If Hsiao Yang-kui cannot abide by the law, if his fellow judges persist in covering for him, then the entire system has degenerated. In which case, how can anyone still believe in it? The courts must not be operated by political parties. Nor can the courts become judges' private fiefdom. Judges must never forget that the source of their judical authority is the public. There is no room for private interests.