We firmly believe that an independent, impartial judiciary is fundamental to the rule of law for any democratic country. The legal responsibility for anyone in the justice system must be determined through a fair procedure, without any prejudice. Only then will decisions made by the courts have any credibility in society.
Looking at our current “detention system,” it is obvious that the prerequisites for detention are loose, and the period of each detention could last up to two months with the possibility of repeated extensions. This system has been abused to the extent that defendants are in actuality serving the penalty of incarceration prior to the trial. For a long time, this has caused irreparable damage to the personal freedom of defendants. Therefore, from a human rights perspective, there is an urgent necessity to launch a comprehensive reform and review of the shortcomings of the detention system. Since President Ma Ying-jeou has signed two international human rights conventions and related protocols, the administration should demonstrate its endorsement of human rights by the concrete action of implementing the spirit of those treaties in Taiwan’s domestic law.
We believe that human rights are priceless. To minimize the possible violation of human rights, judicial officials should be allowed to execute the power of detention only when the strictest prerequisites are met. Constitutional interpretation No. 653 by the Council of Grand Justices states the following: Detaining and placing restriction on the personal freedom of the defendant under criminal charge will isolate him/her from his/her family, society and career and have a detrimental impact on his/her personal rights, such as reputation and credibility. This is the most severe form of intervention regarding personal freedom, thus it should be used with extreme caution and only as the last resort for protecting the procedure. Unless all the prerequisites stipulated by law have been met to verify its necessity, detention must not be lightly exercised. However, the case of former President Chen has clearly illustrated that the legal rights of our former head of state have not been protected. This being so, how we can ever ensure that the rights of ordinary citizens will not be violated?
We believe that the court decisions to repeatedly detain President Chen are unreasonable and unnecessary, and have severely damaged the credibility of our judicial system. The court has listed several actions by President Chen as reasons to extend his detention, such as: “Denying his guilt, publishing books, accepting visits from foreign press, reapplying for membership in the Democratic Progressive Party, and not feeling well.” The court has also accused former President Chen of assaulting the justice system when he was simply exercising his litigation strategy of: “no confession, no plea, no summoning witnesses and cross-examinations.” These reasons cited by the court are irrelevant to the legal prerequisites for detention: flight risk, destruction of evidence, alteration or fabrication of evidence, or conspiracy with any accomplice or witness. Besides, there were clear violations of the principle of “gesetzlicher Richter (法官法訂原則)” regarding the changing of judges. (In this case, the Presiding Judge of the case Chou Chan-chun (周占春) was replaced in the middle of the trial by Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓) and as soon as Tsai became Presiding Judge, he immediately reversed Chou’s original ruling that there was no longer a legal necessity to detain former President Chen, and announced the decision to extend his detention period.) These controversies have raised public doubts about the neutrality of the judiciary.
Indeed, President Chen has disappointed the society with his inability to handle the behavior of his family members, as well as his failure to manage separately his political contributions and his private property. His family members wired money abroad, thus failing his commitment to the people. However, no matter what verdict former President Chen receives or how history judges him, respecting his legal right to a fair trial should be fundamental value shared by our society. The mishandling of his case has highlighted the deficiencies of the system. The emotional likes or dislikes of the society toward the defendant should not be allowed to overwhelm our concerns about the system itself.
An independent and fair judicial system that is trusted by the public should be a source of strength for the judiciary. A fair trial of former President Chen will fortify Taiwan’s democracy. This long-term detention of President Chen has already created tremendous damage to the image and credibility of our judicial system. It has also created more divisions, confrontations and tensions within our society which will seriously endanger the development of Taiwan’s democracy.
Out of a need to cherish our democracy and protect justice, we call for the immediate release of former President Chen. The government should take immediate action to reform the detention system that has violated basic rights, as well as amend related laws, such as the Criminal Procedure Law. Before the laws are amended, the judiciary should execute its authority of detention with extreme caution to minimize the violation of the rights. We all hope that by starting from the point of protecting human rights, we will then promote judicial reform and thus the foundation of Taiwan’s democracy will be strengthened.
This joint statement was signed by a group of 10 lawyers, scholars, and civil rights activists listed below: (in alphabetical order)
Dr. Chen Chien-Jen (陳建仁), Professor, National Taiwan University
Dr. Chen Hwei-Syin (陳惠馨), Dean, the College of Law, National Chengchi University
Dr. Chiu Hei-Yuan (瞿海源), Research Fellow, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica
Dr. Huang, Juei-Min (黃瑞明), Chairman, Judicial Reform Foundation
Dr. Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌), Research Fellow,, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica
Lee Yuan-chen (李元貞), Founder, the Awakening Foundation
Dr. Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), Nobel Laureate and former President, Academia Sinica
Wellington Koo (顧立雄), Chairman, Taiwan Bar Association
Dr. Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), Chairman, Citizen Congress Watch
Dr. Tsai Ingwen (蔡英文), Chairperson, Democratic Progressive Party