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[Op-Ed] Bar Exam Bill Voted Down

Posted February. 14, 2009 09:11,   


A revised bill that will complete the law school system was rejected at the parliamentary plenary session Thursday. Of 218 lawmakers who cast ballots, 78 voted for the bill, 100 opposed, and 48 abstained. Of 132 legislators from the ruling Grand National Party, only 54 voted in favor while 78 either said no or abstained. Hong Joon-pyo, floor leader of the ruling party, urged party lawmakers to cast ballots in favor of the bill according to the party line, though they did not agree on it. His call fell on deaf ears, however.

Some say lawyers who stick to their vested interests lobbied against the bill and others say legislators hailing from South Gyeongsang Province, which has no law school, thwarted the motion. Most of the blame, however, falls on the party leadership because it failed to persuade its own lawmakers. The main opposition Democratic Party railed against the ruling party by saying, “The failure stemmed from the ruling party’s attempt to railroad the bill. This is the epitome of its discord and irresponsibility.” The ruling party’s floor spokesman Kim Jung-kwon said, “We judge all policies, including those presented by the government, in a cool-headed manner and try to present concrete alternatives. This is the party’s stance.” But this has clearly showed the discord between the ruling party and the government.

The deal breaker was the number of times an applicant can take the bar and eligibility for the exam. The revision limits the number of the examination to three over five years and allows only law school graduates to take the test. Some say the second condition is unconstitutional. In Japan, all people can take the law bar regardless of educational background. In the United States, only law school graduates are eligible for the exam, but the country makes up for the restriction with inexpensive online law schools. The annual tuition for law school is 15 million won (10,600 U.S. dollars) a year, so the government must offer opportunities to the financially strapped.

The adoption of the law school system began to be reviewed under the Kim Young-sam administration. The National Assembly agreed to introduce the system in 2007. If the bill has many problems, lawmakers cannot be blamed for voting it down. A party-line vote on the controversial bill is something to be abolished as well. The most confused will be law school officials who are preparing for the opening of the school in March, however, because nothing was fixed. Hopefully, the government and the Assembly can join hands to produce an alternative measure that maintains the original purpose and resolves differences.

Editorial Writer Gwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)