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[Editorial] Judicial Autonomy

Posted February. 02, 2007 06:47,   


The Supreme Court has classified 224 security-related rulings made between 1972 and 1987 as verdicts whose retrials are likely to take place – 63 percent, or 141 cases, are espionage cases. The court will decide whether or not to grant a retrial if the convicted person or the bereaved family requests a retrial based on valid grounds. However, experts believe that the Supreme Court’s categorization will induce retrials and influence the court’s decision.

Under the current criminal procedural law, the grounds for retrials are strictly limited to the discovery of “tangible evidence” that may overturn the original ruling. Therefore, retrials cannot be dramatically increased unless a special law that eases the grounds for granting retrials is enacted. However, some judicial officials believe that the number of retrials should be increased by interpreting the term, “tangible evidence,” more flexibly. However, it is important to remember that once cases are closed under the three instance trial system, according to the current criminal procedural law, retrials become extremely difficult unless there are exceptional circumstances and there is a reason for it – to protect the stability of the legal system.

Of course, innocent people must be retried and cleared of false charges. For instance, innocent people who were wrongfully accused of attempting to establish the People`s Revolutionary Party were convicted based on false confessions, obtained under torture. However, retrials should be carefully approached case by case. There are many cases which cannot prove truth because physical evidences and witnesses have completely vanished, or because too much time has passed since the incident. With regard to spying cases, retrying all cases, based on today’s perspective, is not reasonable because those particular rulings were made in consideration of the different historical backdrop and different security situation. For instance, most spies were prosecuted and convicted at a time when North Korea was sending spies to South Korea.

At present, the National Assembly is still discussing the revision of the criminal procedural law and has not yet reached an agreement. Therefore, the judiciary must not be swayed by the pressure of the Special Committees on Fact Finding on Past Incidents which are led by progressive leftists and political authorities. Granting a retrial is a matter that should be independently decided by the court. If the judiciary is influenced by outside pressures, judicial autonomy will be impaired.

In conclusion, there are conflicts of interest between judicial autonomy and the government’s attempts to disclose historical wrongdoings. The judiciary must not be influenced by outside pressure and must act strictly in accordance with the law and consciousness.