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How Taiwan’s Constitutional Court Reined in Police Power: Lessons for the People’s Republic of China

Authors: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies, and Margaret K. Lewis
June 24, 2014
Fordham International Law Journal


For over six decades, police in Taiwan could lock up people they deemed "hooligans" (liumang) for years with at most a cursory review by the courts. It was not until Taiwan's Constitutional Court (the "Court")—also known as the Grand Justices of the Judicial Yuan—stepped in that important change began to occur, culminating in the ultimate repeal of the law that authorized the police-dominated process. As a result, in 2009, all of Taiwan's imprisoned liumang who did not have concurrent criminal sentences were released.

The path toward abolition—albeit winding, long, and complex—is a glowing example of the judiciary, executive, and legislature carrying out their respective duties in a democratic, cooperative, and relatively transparent manner. In particular, the often-overlooked Court played an essential role in curbing police power. This Article discusses the detailed process by which judges, officials, and legislators—spurred by civic groups, lawyers and academics—brought about annulment of the relevant legislation, the Act for Eliminating Liumang (檢肅流氓 條例) (The "Liumang Act" or "LMA"). Crucial to this process was a series of Court interpretations, combined with sustained efforts by law reform groups and a gradual realization by the legislative and executive branches that the Liumang Act could no longer be justified as compatible with the values of post- martial-law, democratic Taiwan. The Court's gradual invalidation of various provisions of the Liumang Act was a necessary, albeit standing alone insufficient, force behind the Act's ultimate abolition.

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