On August 25, 109, the Civil Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court handed down the 108-Tai-Kang-Da-953 Ruling (hereinafter, the “Ruling”), holding that in case a criminal incidental civil lawsuit is transferred to the civil division pursuant to the ruling of the criminal court, if the civil division determines that the criteria under Article 487, Paragraph 1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure are not met, the civil division should allow the parties to pay the court fees in order to cure the deficiency of the complaint procedure.
According to the facts underlying this Ruling, Individuals A and B had a car accident where B died after being injured and sent to hospital. Individual C, B’s mother, initiated an incidental civil lawsuit in the criminal procedure, asserting that since B died because of A’s negligence, A was requested to compensate for the cost of support and non-property damage incurred by B’s death based on the legal relationship of tort. The criminal division held that since the causal relationship between B’s death and A’s act could not be substantiated, A was found to have committed the offense of negligently causing injury to another person, and ruled that the matter involving an incidental civil lawsuit should be transferred to the civil division. The judge of the civil division who held that C was not the victim relating to the facts of crime concluded in the criminal decision elected to render a ruling to reject this case.
The legal dispute of the Ruling is: in case the incidental civil lawsuit initiated by the Plaintiff does not meet the criteria under Article 487, Paragraph 1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, if the lawsuit is transferred to the civil division pursuant to the ruling of the criminal division, can the Plaintiff supplement the court fee in order to cure the deficiency?
According to the Ruling, incidental civil lawsuits are set up since the defendant is guilty and strict evidentiary investigation into the criminal facts concerning the defendant has usually been conducted. And the criminal facts concerning the indictment of the defendant will then become the causes and facts concerning the damage. In order to avoid discrepancies in civil and criminal decisions and the burden of litigation on those who have been damaged as a result of the crime, a special procedure in which the court fee is waived and the burden of claim and proof on the victims are reduced can be brought to bear and the criminal court will render a decision concurrently so that the victims who have been damaged as a result of a crime may obtain timely and effective relief. Although such special procedure restricts the quantifications of the parties, the scope of claims and the timing of filing a complaint, still it provides that if the court believes that the trial of a case involving a complicated incidental civil lawsuit cannot be concluded rapidly, the panel of judges may render a ruling to transfer such matter to the civil division of the court. Therefore, although an incidental civil lawsuit is attached to a criminal lawsuit and is tried by the criminal court, this does not change the nature of private law disputes. If they do not meet the criteria under Article 487, Paragraph 1 of the Criminal Procedure Law, they simply do not enjoy the benefits under the above special procedure, and it is not true that relief cannot be sought through the general civil procedure.
It was further stated in this Decision that an incidental civil lawsuit is no different from an ordinary civil lawsuit by nature. Article 503, Paragraph 1 (Proviso) and Paragraph 3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provide that when acquittal, exoneration or dismissal is instructed in a criminal lawsuit, if the incidental civil lawsuit should be transferred to the civil division upon the plaintiff’s application, the plaintiff shall pay the court fee. This requirement seeks to address an incidental civil lawsuit which originally does not meet the criteria under Article 487, Paragraph 1 of the same law by allowing the plaintiff to pay the court fee before this case can be heard by the civil court in order to balance the plaintiff’s procedural interest, substantive interest and the trial economy of resolving disputes once and for all. When the defendant is not found guilty in a decision, the plaintiff can still apply to transfer the case to the civil division and supplement the court fee to cure the procedural deficiency. Therefore, if the defendant is found guilty in a decision, it is even more inappropriate to deprive the defendant of the right to pay the court fee and request to resolve disputes through a general civil procedure. Moreover, the court may have different opinions on whether the plaintiff is the victim of a crime or whether the defendant is a person who should be held liable under the Civil Code, and this goes beyond the plaintiff’s ability to predict. Therefore, the plaintiff should not be required to assume the risk of failing to accurately predict the court’s opinion. Under the circumstances where the criminal department renders a decision finding the defendant to be guilty and transferring the case to the civil division due to the complexity of the case, since the plaintiff’s initiation of the incidental civil lawsuit is expected to be legitimate on the face, if the plaintiff’s claim lapses due to the expiration of its statute of limitations and the court then rejects the claim on the ground of the illegality of the incidental civil lawsuit, this is tantamount to asking the plaintiff to assume the disadvantage of the court’s delay in the transfer or trial of such incidental civil lawsuit and this is hardly fair to the plaintiff. Therefore, the plaintiff should be given an opportunity to cure the deficiency.