On 4 July 2019, the Grand Chamber was established under Taiwan’s courts of final appeals (including the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court), opening a new chapter for Taiwan’s judicial system.
The purpose of the Grand Chamber is to enhance the consistency in interpretation of statutes in court decisions in Taiwan. The Grand Chamber system (大法庭制度) replaces the “Precedent and Resolution” system (判例選編及決議制度) in Taiwan, which previously served the role of harmonizing conflicting legal interpretations in court decisions. Under the old Precedent and Resolution system, “precedents” and “resolutions” were selected by members of the courts of final appeals from existing decisions on legal issues and had de facto binding effect on the lower courts. The Precedent and Resolution system had been criticized for being detached from the underlying facts of the case and for lacking transparency because it did not allow the participation of the parties. In contrast, the new Grand Chamber system conducts oral hearings and welcomes the participation of the parties and of experts, and the decisions are binding on the underlying cases from which the legal issues are submitted. With these features, it is hoped that the new system can achieve the goal of enhancing public trust in court decisions and more broadly, Taiwan’s judicial system.
Organization of Grand Chamber(s)
The Grand Chamber is established under the courts of final appeals. There are two Grand Chambers under the Supreme Court: The Civil and the Criminal Grand Chamber. Each Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court consists of 11 judges, respectively, including a presiding judge, a member judge of the division which submits the legal issue to the Grand Chamber for the resolution of conflicting legal interpretations, and 9 judges elected by and among members of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Administrative Court has its own Grand Chamber with 9 judges, organized in the same way. The Grand Chamber of the Supreme Administrative Court has only 9 instead of 11 members.
Procedures of Grand Chamber(s)
The Grand Chamber is part of the courts of final instance. There are two ways to submit legal issues to the Grand Chamber:
- Firstly, where a division of the Supreme Court or the Supreme Administrative Court finds that its interpretation of a legal issue contradicts or conflicts with the legal interpretation of previous court decisions, this division (Submitting Division) has an obligation to submit that legal issue to the corresponding Grand Chamber for determination. Before submission, the Submitting Division will first seek comments from other peer divisions of the same court. Only where the Submitting Division confirms that at least one peer division maintains the interpretation of the previous court decisions can the Submitting Division proceed with submitting the issue to the Grand Chamber.
- Secondly, an issue may be submitted to a Grand Chamber when a division of the Supreme Court or the Supreme Administrative Court deems that the interpretation of a legal issue is significant in principle.
In addition, a litigant at the court of final instance is entitled to file a motion to request the court to submit the legal issue to the Grand Chamber where he/she considers the existing conflicts of legal interpretations will affect the determination of his/her case. The division will then consider whether to submit the legal issue to the Grand Chamber.
In proceedings before the courts of final instance, oral hearings are held at the court’s discretion and rarely occur. In contrast, Grand Chambers shall hold oral hearings. Parties will be represented by attorneys at the oral hearings, giving the Grand Chamber the opportunity to hear different views from the parties, thereby enhancing transparency in the adjudication process of the Grand Chambers.
The Grand Chambers may request experts and/or scholars to submit their opinions on legal issues, either in writing or in the oral hearings. Opinions provided by experts and scholars are expected to help fill the gap between legal theories and judicial practice.
The Grand Chamber will issue a ruling on the legal issue only and without considering the underlying facts of the particular case. The Submitting Division must decide the underlying case based on the ruling of the Grand Chamber. However, a Grand Chamber ruling is not binding for other cases. Instead, if a division of the court of final instance finds that its interpretation of a point of law differs from a Grand Chamber ruling, this division bears the obligation to submit the issue to the Grand Chamber for determination, based on the new underlying facts of the case. On 20 January 2020, the Supreme Administrative Court issued the first and currently only Grand Chamber ruling with regard to the taxable period of estate tax. It is expected that more rulings will be issued.
 Courts in Taiwan are comprised of divisions, and each division has several judges.