[OUTLOOK]A primer on the Roh trialIt now appears that the future of our politics will be determined by how the Constitutional Court decides on President Roh Moo-hyun’s impeachment. Many people are worried, but it seems that this worry in great part comes from a lack of understanding about the impeachment trial procedures.
An impeachment trial is a procedure provided to process fairly and objectively the discharge of high-ranking officials whom it is realistically difficult to discipline with normal measures or whose independent position is guaranteed. Criminal trial procedures are applied as basic trial procedure rules. The Constitutional Court becomes the trial court and the chairman of the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee is the prosecutor. The president would stand as the “accused.”
The impeachment trial procedures begin when the committee chairman sends the impeachment resolution to the court. The impeachment resolution is similar to a written arraignment in a criminal lawsuit. A summary of the impeachment resolution is that the president violated election laws and that he conspired with his aides, including Choi Do-sul and Ahn Hee-jung, to amass illegal funds after his election. This impeachment resolution will then be sent directly to the president and the president will be given a chance to respond. When the president sends in his response, the Constitutional Court will send the response to the committee chairman so that the two sides each have a turn to make their statements and hear the other side.
Afterward, the court will set a date for arguments and on this date, the chairman will be able to question the president and the president will be able to defend himself. Following the arguments, the court will start taking evidence to find the facts about the impeachment charges. It is expected that the documents kept by the National Election Commission and film kept by the media will be used as evidence for the charges of election law violations. Regarding the charges of corruption by Mr. Roh’s aides, those aides and those who allegedly paid them bribes are expected to be called as witnesses. The financial institutions involved in the transactions will also probably be requested to turn in related material for the taking of evidence.
Then the judges will begin deliberations to reach a conclusion. In the deliberations, the chief judge will first summarize and announce the findings and after exchanging opinions, the judges will make their final decisions. If six of the nine judges agree with the charges, the impeachment is approved. If that is the outcome, the president is immediately discharged from office.
The constitutional court rules on important issues that affect the lives of the majority of the people and issues that require urgent attention first, before other cases are considered. It is expected that the president’s impeachment trial will be processed swiftly. However, because there are set procedures, it would be physically difficult for the court to reach a decision before the legislative elections in April. It would be difficult even to reach a decision by May or June.
The fact that the president’s constitutional powers are suspended while the impeachment trial goes on could be a reason for instability in our government. Our constitution provides for the prime minister to take over the president’s duties, thus minimizing the vacuum in the government.
* The writer is a lawyer. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hwang Do-su