Judges’ Powers, Now and Then

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Judges’ Powers, Now and Then

Judges in the Chosun Dynasty are not exactly the same as judges today. In the early Chosun era, a judge, or pansa in Korean, held a position of minister in a range of government ranks. Judges as defined in our society today made their first appearance after the “Kabo” political reform in 1894 concerning the law on court organization, promulgated on March 25, 1895 ? the first promulgation of laws in the Chosun Dynasty.

The word “prosecutor” was introduced in this law on court organization, showing the influence of the Japanese law system. Until then, the administration and jurisdiction were not independent of each other in the government of the Chosun era.

If we were forced to draw a comparison with the court system in the modern era, the most powerful judge during the Chosun era was the king. Under his power to make final decisions, the central government had various judicial institutions and agencies. In each region nationwide, provincial governors and chief magistrates exercised judicial power.

The law on court organization in 1895 stated that judges, prosecutors, clerks and sergeants are employees of a courthouse. However, prosecutors at that time did not have independent official authority, as they do today. The law stated that a prosecutor is empowered to issue a warrant, collect evidence, execute a trial and carry out other administrative tasks of prosecution. Prosecutors should visit and search jails to prevent innocent people from being detained and carry out questioning sessions for the detainees promptly, according to the law.

In May 1895, a collection of laws and regulations for prosecutors was announced, elaborating specific duties of prosecutors. According to the collection, a prosecutor has the right to accept charges and complaints and take disciplinary action against corrupt government officials by collecting evidence.

A common belief, dating to Masashige Kusunoki, a 14th century Japanese army general, is still very persuasive in our society. His army flag stated that what goes against a principle is no match for the principle, while principle is no match for laws and laws are no match for power, while power is no match for heaven’s will. The prosecution recently started a full-scale investigation of suspicions that the National Security Planning Agency had diverted its budget to candidates in a general election, but later announced that it has “no plan to summon politicians involved.” Regarding such behavior by the prosecution, Korean society responded that “after all, laws are no match for power.” How have we ended up in such a deplorable condition?

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