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[Opinion] Judges’ Performance Evaluation Sheets

Posted February. 03, 2005 22:56,   


Imagine there are five judges. You check their performance grades and find out there is only one judge who got an A. The rest all got a B, C, D, or F. As a client, you would like the one who got an A, if possible, to take your case. Yet, without luck, the one who got the lowest grade gets assigned to take your case. You try to console yourself by thinking, “They are all equally qualified judges. I doubt it will work against me…” However, you are not completely relieved. You cannot help thinking, “Wouldn’t it have been better if the one who got an A took my case…?”

This may happen to those who go to court to stand trial because performance evaluations of judges have been made public for the first time. To be sure, you cannot access the grades of the judge who judges your case unless he or she lets you know them, as they will not be published. Your worry may be unwarranted, as the grade your judge got does not necessarily represent his or her competency at work. All the same, it clearly predicts what significant changes judges’ evaluations will bring about to the courts.

The idea of grading judges based on their performance was floated in accordance with the judges’ performance evaluation system introduced to deal with the current unfair appointment system under which any judge, however competent he or she may be, had to retain unimportant positions and was not promoted if they had done poorly on the bar test and at the Judicial Research and Training Center. The adverse effects of the present system were such that some would say, as if making a mockery of themselves, “As for us judges, when climbing mountains, we go in the order of rank.” If the new system is successful, competent judges will get to have more chances at work, as the appointment system will be based on judges’ performance.

But there are some who object to the new plan. Behind their disapproval is their projection that it would greatly compromise the independence of judges, for they may become more susceptible to unscrupulous favors and outside pressure once they start trying to win the hearts of their superiors to get a good evaluation. Some others also warn, “The new system will degrade judges by making them preoccupied with grades,” or “It will do good to only those who are subtle enough.” It does not follow that courts should be the last place where changes occur, yet the basic principle that “Judges should try cases by the law and conscience” will hopefully remain firmly intact in any case.

Lee Jae-ho, Editorial Writer, leejaeho@donga.com