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Judge’s ‘Impartial’ Hint Reverberates

Posted February. 18, 2006 02:59,   


Legal circles are buzzing over Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon’s remarks hinting at a lack of impartiality in a judgment handed down in the Doosan Group slush fund case. Lee reportedly referred to an old Korean saying: “Being granted the privileges of one’s former post,” fueling discussion over the reason for his remarks and whether they were appropriate.

One Supreme Court judge said, “Up until now, decisions from judges differed greatly according to a defendant’s social status and a defendant’s lawyers. Lee’s remark reflects his thought that the courts brought the public’s distrust onto themselves.” Lee is known to be dissatisfied with some high level judges that have shown such patterns in their decisions.

Lee’s remark about granting privileges to certain people may have been influenced by criticism from the outside. During his National Assembly confirmation hearing last year, Lee received criticism from questioners about the partial atmosphere in courtrooms.

The Doosan Group’s embezzlement case was dubbed the “K High School case” during the trial because it involved judges and lawyers who graduated from that school. The trial judge and three lawyers who are former high-level judges are all graduates of K High School. Incidentally, the Chief Justice is also a former student of K High School.

A Seoul High Court judge said, “Since public trust in the judicature has hit rock bottom, Lee probably felt threatened as the leader of the judicature, and thus made the comment.”

One mid-level prosecutor of the Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office said, “Though the Chief Justice’s remark is correct in principle, it may have infringed on his own independence as a man of law.” Another mid-level prosecutor said, “It is unclear whether it is appropriate for a Chief Justice to publicly denounce a specific decision in a case. It seems like to me a type of populism.”

Korean Bar Association public relations executive Ha Chang-woo said, “I wholly agree with the Chief Justice’s comment. We should take his remark not as interference in a particular case, but as an attempt to recover the trust of the judicature.”

One High Court judge said, “The Chief Justice’s criticism of the decision has two sides.: it may help change deeply rooted illegal bench practices, but it also may damage a judge’s aura of impartiality. Our future task is to minimize the negative effects of his criticism and enhancing the positive.”