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The Judicature Should Lead the Establishment of Sentencing Standards

The Judicature Should Lead the Establishment of Sentencing Standards

Posted September. 14, 2005 07:46,   


In the courts, the controversy over “money buying innocence” is nothing new. There have been many cases of people charged with receiving bribes, taking illegal money, or violating election laws getting relatively weak punishment by hiring lawyers who used to be government officials.

When the Supreme Court established a stringent standard on sentencing and created special departments in charge of corruption at each district court in 2003, the first court delivered strict rulings. However, many people were released in the second round of trials because of its softer stance.

Minister of Justice Chun Jung-bae announced at a ministerial meeting of the Presidential Committee on Judicial Reform that the ministry would set a standard for sentencing according to the nature of the crimes. We agree with the point that it is necessary to correct sentencing polices which vary depending on judges. However, creating laws that limit a judge’s authority to deliver a sentence based on their conscience could ignite controversy and infringe on judicial power.

In that regard, it would be wise to present the standards in the form of recommendations, as discussed in the Presidential Committee on Judiciary Reform, when the ministry decides on a sentencing standard. This approach also can prevent the abuse of the power of judges’ discretion since judges will have to give detailed reasons whenever they hand down sentences that do not conform to recommended standards.

Moreover, the judicature, which has experience in various courts and accumulated research on sentencing, can do better in establishing sentencing standard plans.

It would not be in line with the system of checks and balances and could draw complaints from judges if the Ministry of Justice and the prosecution, which only represent one party in criminal court, drive the establishment of sentencing benchmarks. The correct move would be for the Judicature to set standards that reflect the opinions of judges after discussing the drafts for the standards with those in legal circles.

Trials are the only way to verify the circumstances of criminals, such as the motivations of the crimes, the degree of regret, and their health condition when they are arrested. Mechanical sentencing that comes from a computerized program by entering crime data ignores the differences between individuals. That is why the authorities should refrain from setting rigid sentencing laws.