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[Op-Ed] Lawyers` Assessment of Judges

Posted January. 13, 2010 08:40,   


British judges began wearing white wigs in court in the late 17th century. They were not the only ones to do so, however. In the early 17th century, King Louis III of France wore a wig to hide his bald head. Wigs became in vogue in Europe afterwards and served as a symbol of the British court. Wigs at the time represented the authority of judges and the court. In Korea, a judge’s robe also shows a sense of authority but is uncomfortable. Former judges say they had to dip their feet in basins of cold water in court on hot summer days.

In 2008, the British Supreme Court banned judges except those handling criminal cases from wearing wigs and replaced their robes with light gowns. Australia, a member of the British Commonwealth, will follow suit. Lord Nicholas Phillips, president of the British Supreme Court, led the way in eliminating wigs in court. While on a 2007 visit to Seoul, he said, “A judge’s attire does not affect trials.” The U.K. is not alone in placing impartiality and creditability before authority.

Lawyers belonging to the Seoul Bar Association will announce their assessment of judges. Of the association’s 7,000 members, 555, or just eight percent, participated in the evaluation. Yet the results will grab public attention since 20 excellent judges were named, as were those receiving low grades. The association said high-handed and partial judges and those who forced settlements and confessions got low grades. The release of the list of excellent judges alone will grate judges’ nerves.

Parties involved in trials pay close attention to every word and facial expression of judges. If they deem judges as biased, they will reject court rulings. The fairness of the lawyers’ assessment of judges, however, can also be questioned. Half of all defense attorneys who lose cases tend to be hostile to judges. If the assessment was made based on lawyers’ subjective feelings, it does have its limitations. Displays of biasness by judges should be rectified. Judges, however, must make rulings based on the law and their conscience, so an unfair assessment will undermine judicial independence.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)