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Changes Ahead for Supreme Court

Posted November. 16, 2005 08:23,   


Three Supreme Court Justice nominees and every Supreme Court Justice believe that the basic framework of National Security Law should be maintained.

The three nominees, Kim Hwang-sik, Park Si-hwan, and Kim Ji-hyung, are waiting for approval from the National Assembly.

This newspaper reviewed records on National Assembly hearings and judicial precedents of the Supreme Court regarding all members of the new Supreme Court, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hun, 11 incumbent justices, and three nominees yesterday. It found that nobody argued for a complete abolition of the National Security Law.

However, because most of them are for abolishing capital punishment and introducing an alternative civil service for conscientious objectors to compulsory military service, changes are expected in court rulings.

Since the inauguration of the current administration, seven justices (including three nominees), a majority out of 13 justices, have been replaced. That raised the possibility of changes in future rulings.

The National Assembly will decide in a plenary session whether to approve the nominees on November 16. If it approves, there will be 14 Supreme Court Justices for a while. But the number will be back to 13 when Justice Bae Ki-won retires at the end of this month.

Most Supreme Court Justices think that core clauses and the basic framework of the National Security Law should be maintained. Many also feel, however, that some clauses require revision and strict enforcement by the court.

The three Supreme Court Justice nominees said in a National Assembly hearing held on November 9-11 that “Article 2 of the law defining an anti-state (meaning North Korea) is necessary”; “We should retain clauses necessary for protecting the Constitution”; and “It would be better to maintain what the law originally intended rather than to completely abolish it.”

However, regarding Article 7 (which deals with praising and sympathizing with an anti-national organization and carry material promoting it) and Article 10 (which deals with failures to inform the authorities of any anti-national acts), many judges believe that they should be revised, the punishment on charges of breaching them eased, and abuse of them prevented.

Eight judges were found to be for the abolition of capital punishment, while four want to retain the system. The Supreme Court ruled in December 1994 that “capital punishment is not against the Constitution.” But as most judges in the Supreme Court argue for the abolition of capital punishment, they are expected to refer the case to the Constitutional Court or avoid imposing death sentences as much as they can when they are asked to decide the constitutionality of capital punishment.

Jung-Hun Kim Jung-Eun Lee jnghn@donga.com lightee@donga.com