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[Opinion] Law-Respecting Mind

Posted May. 18, 2003 22:12,   


When a new satellite city wishes to set up a bicycle-only road, which process it will have to go through? For the airport authority to put into isolation and monitor a suspected SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) patient returning from China, what measures it must take? The public thinks of penalties or budget allocations when it comes to institutional arrangements, hardly taking interest in specific measures. For the setup of a bicycle road, the head of a city or a village must complete a plan to build and use a bicycle-only road under the ‘Bicycle Use Promotion Act’. For the handling of suspected SARS case, the government must revise the law governing quarantine system to include SARS as a new infectious disease. Then, it will be able to put suspected SARS patients into isolation and closely monitor them.

Any law-respecting country must have legal ground for all of its administrative and budget operations. Most people, however, tend to think of their own interests or righteousness of acts before referring to the law. They are far less interested in whether a government action is based on the Constitution or respects the law. Why is it so, then? It might be because we have a weak root of constitutionalism and the law has not become a part of everyday life of people yet.

Scholars often cite as reasons the weak foundation of constitutionalism, Confucius culture and political and social experience. Dasan Jung Yak-yong, one of the greatest scholars in Korean history, also stated that `observance of custom comes first, and then comes that of the law`. Korean people, indeed, seem to care more about values, ethics and custom, rather than the law introduced by the National Assembly, which represents people. The so-called `persistency law (meaning persistence prevails over the law)` or `national sentiment law` are instances unique in this country. Having gone through the Japanese colonial period, dictatorship and military rules, people came to think that the law is not for the people but for authoritative rulers.

The law in a constitutional state, however, is a set of agreements made by the people that represent the people. Although we find some unfairness in implementing the law, therefore, it cannot justify an act of breaking the agreements. This is why so many people raised great concern while watching the general strike carried out by cargo workers, who seemed to ignore the constitutional respect for the sake of their own interest, apart from whether their demands were justified or not.

Jung Sung-jin, Guest Writer, President of Kookmin University, sjchung@kookmin.ac.kr