Reform set to cut number of Supreme Court judges

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The plan was reached after four hours of discussions on Monday at a panel session as part of the Judicial Reform National Conference organized by the Presidential Office.

Of the 18 members present at the session, 16 voted to pass a reform program proposed by the Judicial Yuan concerning the number of judges at the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court, and concerning how the judges will be selected and appointed. The plan will be completed over the next five years, transforming the top-heavy nature of the current system to a more balanced pyramid-like structure, according to the panel. The number of judges at the Supreme Court will be cut to only 14 and that of the Supreme Administrative Court slashed to 7 in the coming five years. Their combined number of 21 compares with the existing 94.

In terms of the selection of court judges, the Judicial Yuan will first recommend a list of 63 candidates, three times the number of judges needed. Difference from Existing System The list will then be handed over to a screening committee, which, in turn, will pick 42 candidates from which the president can determine and appoint the final judges. The president will also directly select two out of the 21 judges to head the supreme courts.

This represents a break from the existing regulations, in which the Judicial Yuan-nominated judges of the supreme courts are approved by the Legislative Yuan.

In addition, there will be no ceiling limit on the duration of the office terms for the 21 judges. In the R.O.C., civil servants must retire at the age of 65, but there will be no enforced retirement for the supreme courts judges. To counterbalance this, judges over the age of 70 will not be able to oversee cases. Judges wishing to retire can apply to do so.

The screening committee will be composed of legal and professional experts, including lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, lawyers and scholars. Qualifications for Candidates The candidates will be screened based on the relevant regulations and requirements set out in the existing Judges Act. Accordingly, potential candidates will include those who used to serve as members of the Council of Grand Justices, members of the Public Functionary Disciplinary Sanction Commission, those who have served as judges or prosecutors for at least 12 years, or have practiced as lawyers for at least 18 years, as well as professors who have taught at legal affairs departments or colleges for over 10 years.

As to supplementary measures needed to facilitate the reform, they will be discussed at the next panel session slated for May 8.

In the judicial structure, the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court will be positioned as courts responsible for strictly carrying out legal reviews on cases and achieving uniform legal interpretations, so as to highlight the democratic legitimacy of their capacity as the courts of final appeal, the Presidential Office said in a statement issued after the meeting.