Friday, June 29, 2007

miscarriage of justice?

One of Taiwan's longest-running and most controversial criminal cases has once
again hit the headlines - sparking a big debate about the judicial system.
Su Chien-ho , Liu Bing-lang and Chuang Lin-hsun (pictured on their way to today's High court hearing) were teenagers when they were arrested sixteen years ago. They were given double death-sentences after the court found them guilty of robbery, rape, breaking and entering, and the gruesome murder of a couple in Hsichih, Taipei County, in 1991.
Various hearings later, the death penalties were upheld. But the three told lawyers their confessions had been extracted from them after they'd undergone torture by the police - including electric shocks to their genitalia.
In a retrial, in 2003, the High Court acquitted the men. But, just a few months later, the Supreme Court ordered a fresh trial - ending in today's verdict, which shocked defence laywers and supporters who had gathered outside the courthouse. There were highly emotional scenes - with most supporters, including some lawyers, in tears. One lawyer said it was an "international joke". The defence team symbolically turned their legal robes inside out - signifying their disgust at the verdict - and held a silent vigil on the steps of the court house. They have vowed to appeal again to the Supreme Court.
Amnesty International has been among the various human rights groups voicing concerns over the case. Last October, they wrote: "The case against the three is based almost entirely on their confessions which were allegedly extracted through torture at the hands of the police. These allegations combined with an apparent lack of material evidence and irregularities in the investigative process give us serious cause for concern that this case is a miscarriage of justice. "
Lawyers here say the case is "special" in many ways: and has helped bring about some real changes in the judicial system - for example, new rules that mean a case cannot be built only around confessions - but needs to have material evidence for convictions; allowing cross examination of witnesses by prosecutors and reducing the dominance of judges in a trial. But, they say, it also exposes the fact that, despite substantial reform, some flaws still remain .

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