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[Editorial] Ganging Up on Supreme Court Justice Shin

Posted May. 21, 2009 07:17,   


The dispute over whether maligned Supreme Court Justice Shin Young-chul should resign is turning from bad to worse. With a number of judges from district and high courts nationwide increasing the pressure on Shin to resign for more than 10 days, Shin`s fellow justice Park Shi-hwan said, “Now is a revolutionary situation where (judges) cannot follow due procedures and rules,” seemingly instigating other judges to take collective action. Park backtracked by saying his real intent was not accurately communicated to the media. He has, however, effectively fueled the controversy by making inappropriate comments at a sensitive time.

Despite the chaotic situation at the judiciary, Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon has remained silent while the controversy spills over to politics.

Main opposition Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun said his party will seek Shin’s impeachment, trying to use the matter as a means for a political offensive. In contrast, the head of the minor conservative Liberty Forward Party and former judge Lee Hoi-chang said, “The one who must resign is Supreme Court Justice Park Shi-hwan, who is pressuring (Shin to resign),” adding, “Justice Park is a cowardly person who is unqualified to be a judge.” The dispute has thus turned into a war between proxies in the political arena.

If the judiciary fails to regain a cool mind and restore order, it could face a fifth "disruption" in Korea’s judicial history as insiders are expressing concern. Judges must understand what it means to mount pressure to resign on Shin, who was appointed via constitutional and legal procedures. While they value constitutional provisions on independent trials by judges, they are intentionally glossing over a provision guaranteeing the stature of judges to force Shin out. While exaggerating that the situation is similar to the civil revolution in 1960 and the pro-democracy movement in 1987, Park has shown that the provision for guaranteeing a judge’s stature can be easily disregarded in such a situation.

According to laws on court organization and Supreme Court rules, an assembly of judges that reviews administration and operation of the court has no authority to discuss whether a judge must resign. If the assembly has gone so far as to abusing its power, this demonstrates that the issue has effectively shifted from Shin’s alleged intervention in trials to an ideological matter. Many judges say the chaotic situation has been extensively influenced by the Society for Korean Law Study, a progressive group of judges that Park has been spearheading.

Now is time for judges to examine fundamental issues, including institutional measures, to assure the stature of judges and independence of the court. Young judges should end their ideological populist “witchhunt” to scapegoat a Supreme Court justice who happens to be conservative. Chief Justice Lee must now show strong leadership and make a courageous decision before the fiasco evolves into the failure of the Korean judiciary’s authority and trust.