Saturday, Mar 07, 2009, Page 8
The trial of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) brings disrepute to the judicial system with every passing week.
For those non-plussed at why prosecutors have not been thoroughly investigated for leaking material to the media, there is always the smorgasbord of other bizarre circumstances to consider: ludicrous arguments for keeping Chen in detention; a switching of judges that put Chen back in detention; faulty recording or informal summaries of “testimony” by witnesses who likely made deals with the prosecution; mandatory taping of meetings between Chen and his legal team by detention center officials; prosecutors mocking their target in theatrical skits; prejudicial comments by Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) and at least two members of the legislature’s judiciary committee; threats by legislators against dissenting judges elsewhere in the legal system; and so on, and so on. It's a genuine feast.
This week saw a few more morsels of legal incredulity added to the heap. On Thursday, prosecutors objected to defense requests for the calling of witnesses because, among other reasons, doing so might benefit the defendants of the day. That this nonsensical component of the objection was not immediately overruled by the judges is most interesting.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Chen's office wants to bring international attention to the issue. With massive pressure on defense counsel coming from the largely pro-blue-camp media, a foreign perspective could give Chen’s team a more solid footing in the media war against his political foes.
This newspaper has also concluded that international attention is necessary — not for Chen's sake, but for the sake of a credible, independent judiciary. The proceedings to date in this most vital of trials have been so badly compromised that expert analysis from the International Council of Jurists, for example, may be essential to demonstrate the gravity of the problem.
For a government that basks in international attention when it occasionally graces our shores, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration seems awfully reticent when it comes to receiving criticism from expert quarters. Such was the case with Professor Jerome Cohen, an eminent jurist who came to castigate elements of Taiwan’s judicial system. We can only assume that his close relationship with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) spared him from the genuine wrath of the KMT legislative caucus.
With intellectual property rights law playing such an important part in relations with the US, for example, it is ironic that the justice minister would object to expert overseas scrutiny of the judiciary on any pertinent case. Yet this is exactly what Wang did, warning Chen’s office that any complaint to the foreign press would discredit the nation.
Meanwhile, one of those legislative committee members, convicted criminal Chiu Yi (邱毅), warned — in all seriousness — that holding such a press conference could result in the judges extending Chen's detention. The ramifications of a person of Chiu’s visibility being able to say things as contemptuous of natural justice as this, and with impunity, are frightening, though few seem to care.
Wang need not be concerned about Chen's office discrediting the judiciary, because in light of the circus involving so-called professionals and officials — not least this relentlessly inept minister — Chen's men simply cannot compete.