[EDITORIALS]Promising Changes in the Courts
A new model for handling civil cases developed by the Supreme Court went into effect yesterday. It is an epoch-making reform of the method of dealing with civil court cases that has been in force for more than 50 years. The new model amounts to an across-the-board revision of court procedures, since the Supreme Court intends to extend its application to family and administrative cases and eventually to criminal cases as well.
Among the most striking changes in the new model are speedier disposition of simple cases by hearing them immediately and, in cases involving dispute, the introduction of a system of more careful, concentrated judicial review through such procedures as having the plaintiff and defense present their cases in writing. According to Seoul District Court statistics, 81 percent of cases tried by a single judge and 27 percent of those tried by a panel of judges are simple ones which could be settled without full-dress court proceedings.
It is noteworthy that the new system will alleviate the bottlenecks caused by reviewing all actions one by one in the order in which they were filed, finishing one case before another could be begun. The change from focusing on written depositions prepared by lawyers to giving more weight to oral testimony given in court by the litigants themselves is commendable, as is the change from examining defendants and plaintiffs separately to questioning them together face to face.
The new system brings with it a number of advantages that will be welcomed by everyone. Trials which previously took an average of ten court sessions to complete will now be finished in just a couple of sessions, while the amount of time judges can devote to more serious and complicated cases will be increased. The time waiting for one's case to be called, which used to average two to three hours, will now be reduced to practically zero.
The new system is not devoid of problems. There is some concern that within the number of court sessions available for each case it may be difficult to get at the truth. The litigants may not have sufficient opportunity to present their cases, and this could lead directly to distrust of the courts and numerous appeals. Also, because a trial will require both the submission of written documentation of each side's case and the presence of witnesses in court, demanding full cooperation on the part of the court itself, counsel, and the litigants, there will doubtless be many practical difficulties to overcome. Besides these problems, the court system has such a direct relationship to the daily lives of the people that it is not something to be changed overnight. There is a need for a period of adjustment during which the public can be adequately informed of what the changes will entail.
As the means whereby the people seek justice and resolution of their complaints, the judicial system deserves good marks for improving itself in this way. But the judiciary also needs to find a way of restoring its own credibility at a more fundamental level.
The public still cherishes such biased conceptions of the judicial system as handing out not guilty verdicts to those who have money or political power and guilty verdicts to those who do not. In order for the courts to gain respect and for the judicial system to achieve status as an institution of prestige and honor, the systemic and procedural improvements must be accompanied by a thorough reformation of the very way of thinking of everyone involved in the system.