Taiwan grand justices rule adultery no longer a crime

Grand justices appear at Constitutional Court for first time, announce ruling instead of written statement

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Chief Justice Hsu Tzong-li (center) joins Secretary-General of Judicial Yuan, Lin Hui-huang, to announce the ruling on May 29. 

Chief Justice Hsu Tzong-li (center) joins Secretary-General of Judicial Yuan, Lin Hui-huang, to announce the ruling on May 29.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — After an 18-year hiatus, Taiwan's grand justices conducted the second review of a law that classifies adultery as a criminal offense and ruled the adultery law is against the spirit of the constitution.

In 2002, the Constitutional Court made a ruling (Interpretation No. 554) that says Article 239 of the Criminal Code is "essential in safeguarding marriage, the family system, and the social order"

Article 239 - A married person who commits adultery with another shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year; the other party to the adultery shall be subject to the same punishment.

In two recent opinion polls, the majority disagreed with the decriminalization of adultery. However, most women's groups said an adultery law usually penalizes women but leaves their male partners unpunished.

Many local judges, prosecutors, and law professors have openly urged the government to repeal laws that criminalize adultery. Taiwan was one of the few countries in the world, apart from those governed by Islamic law, that classified adultery as a criminal offense with legal consequences.

In 2015, South Korea's Constitutional Court made its 62-year-old adultery law a thing of the past, citing it as a violation of people's right to privacy and sexual autonomy.

On Friday (May 29), the grand justices appeared at the Constitutional Court, for the first time, to announce the ruling following a renewed debate about the legitimacy of criminalizing adultery. The usual practice is to issue a public written statement after the ruling is made. The event was broadcast live online.

Secretary-General of Judicial Yuan, Lin Hui-huang (林輝煌), announced the ruling (Interpretation No. 791) that Article 239 of the Criminal Code and its equivalent Code of Criminal Procedure violate the spirit of the constitution and shall be terminated immediately. The judgment was the country should not intervene in marital conflict or relationships and it is a violation of sexual autonomy.

Asked whether legalization would encourage infidelity, Lin responded there was no record of this in South Korea after its legalization in 2015.

Video of the announcement: