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Banning Crooked Lawyers

Posted September. 07, 2010 11:24,   


Courts, prosecutors and lawyers are often collectively called the “three wheels” that pull the judiciary. A problem with one of the three wheels will inevitably cause the judiciary’s function to fall on shaky ground. Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon once objected to the three-wheel concept, urging instead the “one wheel of the judicial community” focused on the court. He thus emphasized the principle centered on trials, which puts priority on testimony and evidence.

The role of lawyers should not be underemphasized, however. If trials are conducted only by judges and prosecutors, finding the truth and acquitting defendants who are not guilty will prove tough. Lawyers receive fees for their services but are different from entrepreneurs and merchants, whose main goal is profit. According to the Legal Counsel Act, lawyers are “professionals meant to serve the public good” and dedicated to “the protection of human rights and establishment of social justice.” They are banned from damaging dignity, concealing the truth, and making false claims in the course of conducting their legal activities. Lawyers must also have a strict sense of public service and ethical principle.

A move to open a legal office by two lawyers whose civil rights were reinstated through a Liberation Day amnesty Aug. 15 has been halted. One of the lawyers had served as a judge for major courts, including the Seoul District Criminal Court and the Seoul High Court. He received a prison term for taking 25 million won (21,300 U.S. dollars) in bribes while serving as a senior judge. The other served as a military legal officer for 10 years and received a suspended prison term for taking 26 million won (22,000 dollars) at the pretext of a book purchase for judges. The executive board of the Seoul Bar Association will recommend that the two voluntarily cancel their registration as legal counsels. If they refuse, the association will send a formal objection to the Korea Bar Association.

The two had been banned from practicing law for five years but the reinstatement of their civil rights has effectively lifted the restriction. The Seoul Bar Association, however, says it cannot afford to ignore negative public sentiment. Even if legal officials are dismissed for corruption, the general practice has been to allow them to make money by practicing law without restriction. The Seoul Bar Association’s move shows its determination to curb such a practice. This is a small but significant step forward. Only under an environment where judicial officials recognize that they have no future as legal professionals if caught for corruption while in public service can the judiciary restore its authority and credibility.

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