MOJ seeks death penalty amendments

2008-03-09 Taipei Times

By Rich Chang

EFFECTIVE DETERRENT? :  The number of executions in Taiwan has dropped off in recent years but abolition of capital punishment still seems unlikely in the short term 

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) said it is seeking to amend the law so that a death sentence can only be handed down when all three judges in a case approve the sentence.

Current law stipulates that a death sentence can be handed down with a majority verdict, which means two of the three judges in a court can decide the ruling. Passage of the amendment would make death sentences more difficult to secure and thereby reduce the number of state executions.

A ministry official told the Taipei Times yesterday that the MOJ and the Judicial Yuan would cooperate to amend the law.

The ministry has also asked the Judicial Yuan to amend the law so that the Supreme Court would have to meet and debate any review of a death sentence handed by the Taiwan High Court, the official said.

He said that at the moment the Supreme Court usually only reviews the legal documents but does not debate the matter.

The official said that the ministry would also ask prosecutors to no longer propose a death sentence to the court when indicting suspects accused of serious crimes.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government promised in 2000 to abolish the death penalty, but the ministry has since suggested that Taiwan might not be able to do this in the near future because a majority of Taiwanese believe that capital punishment is the most effective means of deterring serious crime.

Given this, the ministry has tried to carry out as few executions as possible. The ministry either files extraordinary appeals to the Supreme Court to keep prisoners sentenced to death alive, or delays their executions.

Ministry figures show that the number of executions has been decreasing for years. Thirty-two prisoners were executed in 1998, a number that shrank to 10 in 2001 and to three each in 2004, 2005 and in 2006. No executions were carried out last year.

DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) recently said he supported abolition of the death penalty and that he would push for Taiwan to become the first country in Asia to end capital punishment if elected.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he supports a reduction in the number of death sentences handed down.