Friday, March 19, 2010

Next target : the Supreme Court ?

In what appears to be probably one of the clumsiest attempts ever to undermine the independence of justice in a democracy, Korea's ruling Grand National Party tries to increase the number of Supreme Justices from 14* to 24, officially to facilitate their work and to "diversify" their judgements. Of course, such a move would guarantee the control on all "judgements" from the Supreme Court of Korea.

Even Pervez Musharraf wouldn't have dared changing the rules that boldly. Note that on a more discreet note, the bill would raise the minima of age and legal experience to 45 years and 15 years respectively... which would prevent judges promoted under liberal leaning presidents KIM Dae-jung and ROH Moo-hyun from passing the cut...

Incredibly enough, this party doesn't even need to rush : President Lee Myung-bak already replaced 3 judges and a few more will retire by the end of his mandate, so time is on their side.

Unsurprisingly, this outrageous crusade is led by the same minority of hardliners who want to nuke the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Korea are pushing hard for a comprehensive witch hunt across Korea's legal system. They already tried but failed to remove certain Supreme Justices, starting with Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon... who by the way pointed out this embarrassing evidence : "Even during the military government, they never had the notion of exercising the right to appoint judges"**. Indeed, briefing these extremists about some fundamentals of democracy could definitely help.

All this would be comical if the stakes weren't that vital for the future of democracy in Korea. Let's hope democrats from all parties will join to make sure this infamous bill doesn't pass.

This episode does raise interesting issues though : even with their flocks of assistants, Supreme Justices have much too much work to do. According to the Chosun Ilbo, "in 2009, a total of 32,361 cases were brought before the Supreme Court, where 12 judges handled around 2,700 cases each that year, or seven a day".***

But this reform can certainly not be masqueraded as a "stopgap measure" : adding 10 members wouldn't make each justice's workload any lighter since each one must be as much aware of each case as the others, and the best way to improve the situation would be, as the Chosun suggests and as many countries do, to leave smaller appeals to High Courts.

If letting a few quick-tempered extremists decide of the future of justice in Korea would be a mistake, considering that all members of the ruling party want the end of democracy in Korea would be another. And I'm glad to see that, according to the same Chosun Ilbo, a committee working under the Ministry of Justice is considering the partial legalization of abortion which could, unlike some may think (see "
Wrong question, wrong answer"), have positive effects on natality in Korea.

Seoul Village 2010

* The Supreme Court of Korea : 13 of the 14 Supreme Justices render opinions, the 14th is only a Minister of Court Administration.
** "
GNP aiming to sacrifice judicial independence for party ideology" (The Hankyoreh)
*** "
Hiring More Supreme Court Judges Is a Stopgap Measure" (The Chosun Ilbo 20100318)

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