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The last judicial examination

Posted June. 23, 2017 07:13,   

Updated June. 23, 2017 07:17


In the foreword of the “History of Goryeo,” Jeong In-ji, a scholar of the Joseon Dynasty who wrote the history book at the behest of King Sejong, summarizes the history of Goryeo as the foundation of the dynasty by King Wang Geon, the creation of the state examination to recruit officials under the reign of King Gwangjong, the establishment of the Jongmyo Shrine under King Seongjong, and the collapse of the dynasty following the peaceful era under King Moonjong. This reflects how important the state examination was. The exam was introduced at the proposal of a Chinese-turned-Korean advisor to the king and was in place until it was abolished by King Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty. Countries with a Confucius culture have a long history of a state exam. Its modern versions are the judicial exam, the civil service exam and the foreign service exam.


The judicial exam comes to your mind first when you think of a civil service exam. While those who pass the civil service exam become a Level 5 civil servant in the administration and those who pass the foreign service exam become a Level 5 diplomats, those who pass the judicial exam and become a judge or a prosecutor start with Level 3. The last judicial exam takes place until tomorrow. The last foreign affairs exam was held in 2013. Though there is still the civil servant exam, the end of the judicial exam can be seen as the end of the over 1,000-year tradition of recruiting talent based only on exams under King Gwangjong of the Goryeo Dynasty.

Passing the judicial exam was an occasion for celebration by the entire town. When the names of those who passed the exam were released, the media were busy finding people who passed the exam after overcoming difficulties and challenges. People found a hope in such stories. Sillim-dong, a neighborhood where prestigious Seoul National University is located, had many private academies for helping applicants prepare for the exam and residential buildings for those who prepare for the exam. While there were lucky ones who passed the exam, more people who failed to pass it were left in despair. With the end of the judicial exam, the neighborhood lost vitality and the chance to rise from rags to riches is now fading away.

Three years at a law school in a civil law country like Korea are not sufficient to read must-read books, not to mention further developing one’s major and getting hands-on training. The education system that produced masters of laws and juris doctors has now collapsed. The Roh Moo-hyun administration created law schools and the Moon Jae-in administration does not intend to continue the judicial exam. Japan, which the Roh administration tried to copy, maintained the judicial exam in the end. Korea will be the only country that has law schools only among civil law countries.