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[Editorial] Protecting Judicial Independence

Posted March. 21, 2009 08:19,   


Pressure is growing on Supreme Court Justice Shin Young-chul to resign in the wake of his alleged interference with trials handled by judges on those arrested for illegal candlelight vigils against U.S. beef imports last year. The Constitution guarantees a judge’s status unless he or she is impeached or sentenced to prison. Thus calls for his ouster are nothing less than an attempt to undermine the Constitution and the legal process.

Announcing the results of its probe into the allegation Monday, an internal investigation team of the court referred the case to the civil servant ethical review committee. The question is if sending e-mail and calling junior judges in charge of the case when Shin was head of the Seoul Central District Court constituted attempted intervention in legal proceedings. So waiting for the committee’s answer is the right thing to do at this point. Shin will decide whether to resign after the results come out.

The guarantee of a judge’s status seeks to protect judicial independence from internal and external pressure. Gone are days when political power swayed the judiciary. What is urgent today, however, is protecting judicial independence from certain ideological forces and public opinion provoked by such forces.

Certain media urged Shin’s resignation even before the investigation team announces its results. As if his interference with trials has been confirmed, the main opposition Democratic Party has stepped up its offensive. The Public Campaign for the Rights of Press Customers, which was at the forefront in threatening advertisers not to place ads in the country’s three conservative dailies when the candlelight vigils peaked last year, went on to lodge a complaint against Shin. The Court Government Employees Union has urged Shin’s resignation and threatened to file a complaint against him for abuse of authority.

One senior judge put up a post on a court Web site, however, saying, “If a Supreme Court justice surrenders to public opinion and resigns, another justice will be forced to leave the court by public opinion. This is detrimental to judicial independence over the long run.” If Shin steps down, this will invite continuous attacks on the judiciary and jeopardize its independence.

Certain judges seem to want Shin to go. If judges sincerely want judicial independence, they must stand up to calls for his resignation.