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Judicial Reform or Competition for Hegemony?

Posted March. 20, 2010 06:48,   


The Supreme Court openly criticized Friday the ruling Grand National Party’s proposed revision to a personnel system of judges and prison sentence system. Park Il-hwan, administrative secretary general of the Supreme Court, said in a statement, “We cannot see any courtesy to and respect for the judiciary in the revision,” adding the judiciary is the one that leads judicial reform. This is a defense by the judiciary, which saw its pride dented by calls for judicial reform by the political circle in the wake of a series of not-guilty verdicts on sensitive issues by young judges.

The judiciary’s response is understandable to an extent since part of the revision might undermine the foundation of judicial independence. The revision says the number of justices will increase from 14 to 24, including more than eight non-judges, and that a personnel committee of six external figures and three judges should decide personnel matters of the judiciary. Another source of controversy is the ruling party’s idea that the Supreme Court’s prison sentence committee should be under the president. Such ideas need deep consideration and thorough review since it can significantly affect judicial independence. This is not a matter that can be pushed for by the force of the majority.

That said, the statement of the Supreme Court can trigger conflict between the judiciary and the administration and political disputes between the ruling and opposition parties. It can also be a source of another judicial crisis. One expression says, “It doesn’t fit the government’s dignity, which aims to turn the country to a world leading nation.” The statement displayed the judiciary’s loss of composure instead of showing its logic. What is needed is mutual respect based on the understanding that the right to conduct trials is with the judiciary while the right to make laws belongs to the legislature. No matter how many good ideas the advisory committee on judicial policies under the Supreme Court Justice draws up, such ideas can be implemented only when parliament signs them into laws.

The ruling party’s revision is nothing less than a proposal. Discussion will follow by a special committee on judicial reform comprising both ruling and opposition party lawmakers. Opposition parties, including the main opposition Democratic Party, will present their own revisions as well. In such processes, the judiciary’s proposal will also be discussed. The judiciary needs to humbly accept criticism that past attempts to reform the judicial system failed because the judiciary took the lead. The proposal that judges be appointed from prosecutors, lawyers and legal scholars with more than 10 years of experience is not something presentable by the judiciary itself.

For its part, the National Assembly should respect the principle of separation of the three branches of power while carefully listening to and considering the opinions of the judiciary. The judiciary and the ruling party should be reminded that the people see their verbal dispute as a struggle for hegemony rather than an effort to reform the judicial system.