TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A judge’s decision to personally test a steel bar’s strength by knocking it over his own head before deeming it a weapon has triggered ridicule within Taiwan’s law circles and criticism from Legislator Yeh Yu-lan (葉毓蘭).
According to the verdict, Yu Sheng-I (余勝義) was arrested while attempting to steal various products from claw machines using a self-made tool on Sept. 5, 2020. The weapon was made with a steel bar and a spring, and prosecutors did not deem it a “weapon” capable of harming people.
However, Tseng Yu-ming (曾雨明), the judge for the case, requested to inspect the steel tool. "[He] knocked once on the top of his own head, and found that though not much strength had been applied, the steel bar was confirmed to be hard, and the head hurt a lot,” the verdict read.
Thus Tseng determined the tool to be a weapon and sentenced Yu to six months in prison for stealing while armed.
UDN reported that while Tseng was able to judge the case based solely on paperwork, he decided to open a court session just to decide whether the steel bar constituted a weapon. Before a clerk, Tseng hit himself in the head several times, adding strength with each hit until the pain was “too much.”
Tseng was quoted by UDN as saying his “self-sacrifice” for the inspection was to convince the defendant and prosecutors of his decision to adjust the charges.
Legislator Yeh said while everyone saw this as a joke, she was concerned about how out-of-touch judges are with reality when people already have so little trust in them, UDN reported in an update.
In Taiwan, since there are no juries, judges are responsible for rendering verdicts as well as issuing penalties. Incompetent judges are often called “dinosaur judges," while young and inexperienced judges fresh out of school are called “pacifier judges.”
In an article published in 2017, Taiwan People News reported about a prostitution case in which after a prosecutor mentioned terms such as “blowing trumpet” and “playing flute” (innuendos referring to oral sex) in court, the young female judge asked why she had not seen a trumpet or flute on the evidence list.
Judges in Taiwan are hired through exams; therefore, many judges have little experience outside academic or legal settings. While the public has demanded judicial reform for years in Taiwan, the process has been slow and arduous.