Citizen judge legislation launches 'new era': President Tsai

07/22/2020 09:49 PM
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President Tsai Ing-wen. CNA photo July 22, 2020
President Tsai Ing-wen. CNA photo July 22, 2020

Taipei, July 22 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) applauded the passing of legislation Wednesday that she said marks the beginning of an era in which citizens will take part in judicial proceedings via a "joint trial, joint verdict" mechanism.

The Legislative Yuan passed the 113-article Citizen Judges Act on Wednesday morning, following over 30 hours of screening and voting at an extraordinary session that lasted three days.

The legislation "kicks off a new era of people's participation in the 'joint trial, joint verdict' judiciary," Tsai wrote on her Facebook.

In the post, Tsai said pushing for citizens' participation in judicial trials was one of the resolutions of the National Conference on Judicial Reform held from November 2016 to August 2017.

"The judiciary has left no space for people to take part, and has often faced (people's) doubts on the fairness of verdicts in major criminal trials," Tsai wrote. "That jeopardizes the public credibility of the judiciary."

"This is what we are trying hard to change," Tsai said.

The president contended that the citizen judge system introduced in the new act incorporates the advantages of the jury system in the United States and United Kingdom, and the lay judge system in Germany.

It allows citizens to take part in trials with professional judges, "making trials more open and transparent and fairer, thereby reflecting people's feelings and expectations," Tsai said.

Meanwhile, Constitutional Court Chief Justice and Judicial Yuan President Hsu Tzong-li (許宗力) described the new legislation as "a major landmark" for judicial reforms in the country, given that increasing public trust in the courts has been one of the core goals of the reforms.

In the future, "citizens' attention and opinions on major criminal cases will no longer exist only outside the court," Hsu said, calling citizen participation in trials through the newly-passed Citizen Judges Act a significant step toward judicial reform.

However, the passage of the act was condemned by civil groups and opposition parties who advocated for introducing a jury system in Taiwan's courts, where judges currently oversee trial proceedings and deliver verdicts.

The marathon voting on the draft bill's controversial 113 articles in just over 30 hours was "unfair" to the minor opposition parties, which are greatly outnumbered by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and were easily exhausted during non-stop voting, said Lin Yung-sung (林永頌) of the Judicial Reform Foundation.

He condemned the DPP for "irresponsibly" pushing through the act, and said the foundation will continue to push for a jury system which a majority of the public want.

Lai Hsiang-ling (賴香伶), a caucus whip for the Taiwan People's Party, questioned the quality of the legislation given the continuous voting for more than 30 hours over the past three days.

Meanwhile, Kuomintang caucus whip Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said he does not understand why the DPP is suddenly supporting the lay judge system introduced in the newly-passed act proposed by the Judicial Yuan after having favored the jury system for many years.

Although three opposition caucuses at the Legislative Yuan, including that of the New Power Party, opted for the jury system or at least a system including a jury, the DPP opposed them, Lin said, characterizing the change in position as "amazing and weird."

The Citizen Judges Act mandates the participation of ordinary citizens in criminal trials, working in concert with professional judges to hand down verdicts. It is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

(By Wen Kui-hsiang, Liu Kuan-ting, Lin Chang-chun, Wang Yang-yu, and Elizabeth Hsu)

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