Taiwan legislature passes citizen judge bill

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Legislative Yuan passes Citizen Judges Act to allow participation of citizens in criminal trials. 

Legislative Yuan passes Citizen Judges Act to allow participation of citizens in criminal trials.  (CNA photo)

The Legislative Yuan has passed a Citizen Judges Act that will allow ordinary citizens to participate in criminal trials and work with professional judges in handing down verdicts.

Under the controversial 113-article act, which passed Wednesday morning (July 22), the judging panel in criminal trials will consist of three professional judges and six citizen judges.

At least two-thirds of the nine judges, including at least one professional judge, must find the defendant guilty for a guilty verdict to be handed down, and the same two-thirds majority including a professional judge is needed to hand down the death penalty.

All other sentences must be determined by a consensus of at least five of the nine judges, including one professional judge.

According to the act, any citizen of the Republic of China who is 23 years old or older and has lived in the area under the jurisdiction of a district court for at least four months is eligible to become a citizen judge.

The Citizen Judge Act was one of the initiatives President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) stressed during her inaugural address for her second term on May 20, 2020, and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), with its legislative majority, has pushed it through despite disagreement from opposition parties, which proposed their owned versions.

Supporters of the bill have argued that several decisions by judges in recent years have not met public expectations and that citizen participation in criminal trials is long overdue.

Some opponents have called for a jury system, while others have opposed any participation by citizens.

The Legislature started to screen the draft act on Monday and entered a second reading Monday afternoon.

The second reading was completed at around 8:40 Wednesday after more than 30 hours of voting before the bill passed a final reading at 9:39 a.m.
The act will take effect in 2023.

Taiwan currently uses a system where judges oversee trial proceedings and deliver verdicts.