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PRESS RELEASE: Future of the death penalty in Taiwan to be determined by historic legal challenge

  • News
  • 22 Apr 2024

On 23rd April 2024, the Taiwan Constitutional Court will decide if the death penalty is a lawful punishment. The Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, a coalition of abolitionist NGOs and research institutes, brought the landmark challenge to the Taiwan Constitutional Court assisting 37 individuals currently on Taiwan’s death row. UK NGO The Death Penalty Project was invited by the National Human Rights Commission of Taiwan to provide legal analysis and expert evidence in support of the challenge. In summary, The Death Penalty Project submits that capital punishment violates the Constitution and is not a lawful sentence that the State can impose. 

Notwithstanding the regional and global trends away from the use of capital punishment, with over 75% of the world’s nations having abolished the death penalty in law or practice, Taiwan retains capital punishment, with the last execution having taken place in April of 2020. Although Taiwan abolished the mandatory death penalty in 2006, the country can still impose the sentence for over fifty different crimes, including murder, robbery, and drug trafficking, with no limitation on how much time a person can spend on death row before facing execution.  

The hearing will decide the future of the death penalty in Taiwan. Lawyers are preparing to argue that the death penalty is inconsistent with constitutional rights to life and equality before the law. Should the justices rule in favour of the petitioners, the death penalty will be deemed unconstitutional and abolished. The 37 individuals currently on death row will no longer face execution. Taiwan would join the majority of the world’s nations in rejecting capital punishment as an affront to human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

Since 2008, The Death Penalty Project has supported Taiwanese civil society organisations, politicians, and lawyers to see an end to capital punishment, including two engagement visits in 2016 and 2018 with Sir Keir Starmer KC MP, a patron of The Death Penalty Project.  The UK NGO, in partnership with Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, has also commissioned crucial academic research on Taiwanese Legislator’s attitudes to capital punishment, a study on public opinion, and research on unsafe convictions in capital cases in Taiwan. This research has helped shape the national conversation on the death penalty and has been used by key stakeholders to support and advocate for abolition.  

Saul Lehrfreund, Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project, says:

It is a great honour to have been invited by the National Human Rights Commission to submit arguments and expert evidence to the Constitutional Court, leveraging our unique expertise and legal knowledge. We have worked alongside Hsinyi Lin, Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, and other dedicated professionals for close to twenty years to see abolition become a reality. The challenge to the death penalty provides a unique opportunity for Taiwan to finally remove capital punishment from its domestic legal order and become a beacon for democracy and human rights in East Asia. This critical decision is now in the hands of the Constitutional Court who will need to determine whether the death penalty is compatible with evolving standards of human rights and justice.

Hsinyi Lin, Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, says:

Since the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty was established, over two decades ago, we have waited for the court to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty. Until now, this issue has largely been neglected. We are optimistic that the Constitutional Court will deliver a judgment which promotes the values of contemporary democracy and human rights. If the court declares the death penalty unconstitutional, it will show both regionally and internationally, that Taiwan can take a leading role in the protection of human rights.

The legal arguments provided by The Death Penalty Project set out that Taiwan’s use of the death penalty fails to uphold the rights provided for under its Constitution and its international obligations. There is an ever-increasing body of authority that confirms that the death penalty no longer has any place in a democratic society that respects the rule of law, given its cruel, inhuman, and degrading nature. The Taiwanese Constitutional Court should therefore interpret the Constitution in a way which maximizes the rights to life, the protection of law, and equal treatment under the law. 

The Death Penalty Project instructed two leading academics to provide expert evidence in support of these arguments. The evidence of Professor Carolyn Hoyle from the University of Oxford demonstrates that the death penalty is inherently arbitrary and therefore inconsistent with the right to life. Drawing on data from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the United States of America, and the Caribbean, the evidence of Professor Jeffrey  Fagan from Columbia University shows that the death penalty does not have any deterrent effect on serious crime and that there is no evidence that death sentences or executions have any correlation with homicide, murder, or robbery rates in Taiwan.  

The hearing will take place on Tuesday 23rd April 2024 and will be live streamed in Mandarin on the Constitutional Court website. The Constitutional Court is expected to deliver judgment within three months of the hearing.  

Ends  

Notes to Editors

The Legal Team 

The Death Penalty Project’s legal team, working with US attorney Meg Gould, drafted detailed legal arguments which were used by the National Human Rights Commission to supplement their submissions to the Constitutional Court.  

Expert Academic Evidence 

The academics who are providing expert evidence to the Court are Carolyn Hoyle, Professor of Criminology and Director of the Death Penalty Research Unit, Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford, and Jeffrey Fagan, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. 

Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP), established in 2003, is a coalition of Taiwanese abolitionist non-governmental organisations and research institutes. The alliance was formed to stress and promote the absolute value of life and human dignity as core to the protection and promotion of human rights. www.taedp.org.tw/en 

The Death Penalty Project (DPP) is a legal action NGO, supported by and based at Simons Muirhead and Burton LLP, with special consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council. For more than three decades, The Death Penalty Project has worked to protect the rights of those facing the death penalty. https://deathpenaltyproject.org/  

For interview requests, quotes, or more information please contact DPP’s press team, [email protected]  

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