Zain Dean Case Aftermath: Acid Test for Justice System
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 19 2014
Summary: We are proud that ROC justice has established an international reputation for impartiality. The public must give the courts room. It must wait for the courts to determine whether the defendant is guilty. It must not cling to stereotypes and demand that the court accept its prejudices.
Full Text Below:
British businessmen Zain Dean fled because he killed a man in a drunk driving accident. A court of the third instance sentenced him to four years imprisonment. But he fled the ROC before his sentence could be imposed. The ROC government requested extradition from the United Kingdom. A British court concluded that the ROC complied with international law. Its judicial system met international law standards and practices, and could provide the accused with a fair trial. Zain Dean's plea was rejected. The British court ruled that he should be extradited back to the ROC to serve out his sentence.
The case has attracted considerable media attention on Taiwan. One reason is that the court ruling touches on the issue of sovereignty. The ROC government is an political entity that has long been ignored by the international community. The attention paid to the British court ruling reflected, to a considerable degree, our anxieties concerning sovereignty.
Great Britain has made its international political stance clear. British courts acknowledge the reality of territorial jurisdiction. They accept the ROC government's jurisdiction over Taiwan. Pragmatism has long been a hallmark of the British character. The public on Taiwan has certain expectations regarding ROC sovereignty. The British court affirmed that the ROC justice system met EU requirements for fairness and justice. It affirmed in effect that the ROC has attempted to implement the rule of law and establish a free society. ROC justice has placed it among the rank of nations that follow the rule of law. The British court agreed to extradite one of its own citizens to the ROC to serve out a sentence and face further prosecution. The British were unwilling to shield someone merely because he was one of their citizens. Here is a nation whose view of justice is not predicated upon national or tribal identity. Here is a model of justice that we on Taiwan ought to emulate.
Once Zain Dean has been successfully returned to Taiwan. It will be the turn of the ROC courts to uphold justice without prejudice. From the limited information that has been made public, once Zain Dean returns to Taiwan, he faces more legal problems. He may need to do more than just serve time. Following his departure, prosecutors indicted two of Zain Dean's friends. The charges include forgery and aiding a fugitive. They are accused of helping Zain Dean escape by allowing him use their passport. Since Zain Dean is the chief culprit, prosecutors will inevitably prosecute him for these crimes.
Zain Dean has been convicted of drunk driving and manslaughter. In fact, this was not the first time he was involved in a criminal case on Taiwan. Records indicate that he was involved in other crimes on Taiwan under a different name. But because he fled, nothing came of them. If this is true, old cases could be reopened. That is entirely forseeable. In other words, Once Zain Dean is extradited and returned to Taiwan, he may do more than serve time. Additional criminal charges may await him. He may face a civil suit for drunk driving and manslaughter. That goes without saying.
Zain Dean's public image has probably made him infamous on Taiwan. This is one reason he told the British court he could not receive a fair trial on Taiwan. The British court did not agree with him. It concluded that the courts on Taiwan would not necessarily be led by public opinion.
In view of the British court's decision, we must remind everyone that in any criminal trial, especially press cases, the media must avoid improper interference. It must give the presiding judges enough room to adjudicate independently. When the media addresses public issues, it must be constrained by journalistic ethics. Reporters must exercise restraint. This is a matter of civic responsibility. We inhabit a new s media environment. The Internet has become the new media. When it comes to journalistic ethics, civil society must make no distinctions between professional and amateur reporters. Everyone must be held to the same high moral standards.
The British court concluded that the ROC justice system meets contemporary rule of law standards. Therefore we must abide by the principle of presumption of innocence in our criminal proceedings. The presumption of innocence may not actually reflect the prosecution's inner attitudes. But it must be the principle by which the trial court operates. Otherwise, trials will be mere pro forma rituals. There will be no justice to speak of.
Reporters concerned about civil society and the rule of law should want the court to try a defendant in accordance with the presumption of innocence. Guilt must be determined by evidence, not by stereotypes or prejudices about the defendant. Defendants must not be convicted before they are even tried.
Put bluntly, Zain Dean unrepentantly fled punishment. That was surely distasteful. But did he commit new crimes during his flight? That must be determined by holding another fair trial. We are proud that ROC justice has established an international reputation for impartiality. The public must give the courts room. It must wait for the courts to determine whether the defendant is guilty. It must not cling to stereotypes and demand that the court accept its prejudices.
After all, the courts are under overwhelming pressure. Suppose they render a guilty verdict based on pressure from public opinion. In the eyes of third parties or the international community, will the verdict reflect independent judgment or social pressure? Excessive media influence can only undermine the impartial image of the court.
Zain Dean has been successfully extradited. Civil society on Taiwan must safeguard the hard won reputation of our justice system.