[EDITORIALS]Keeping the judiciary freeAt his inauguration ceremony, Lee Heung-bok, the head of the Seoul Central District Court, mentioned attempts to damage the independence of the judiciary. “I will protect you from the force and moves aimed at challenging the independence and authority of the judiciary,” he said.
His remark is related to his predecessor, Kang Byung-sup. He has said the judiciary is facing a crisis because the opinions of politicians and civic groups, under the name of reform and progressivism, are influencing the courts. Concerns over damage to the independence of the judiciary have been increasing.
Why are high-level judges repeating such concerns? It’s because those in power in this administration have, more often than previous ones, meddled in the affairs of the judiciary by mobilizing so-called progressive civic groups. Civic groups exercise influence on the formation of the Supreme Court, directly and indirectly, by recommending candidates for Supreme Court justice and taking part in the advisory council for the recommendation. Furthermore, they have attempted to influence some trials by staging campaigns on issues under trial.
A court may listen to constructive opinions of a civic group to reflect the value in a trial or to improve a system. But it shouldn’t cater to civic groups. A judge made a shocking confession to the media. “Although I want to point out the wrongs of a civic group, I cannot speak out because I am afraid of being called a reactionary, anti-reform and a member of the establishment.”
The judiciary is the last fortress of defending democracy and its system. Whether it is political force, a group or public opinion, pressure on the judiciary will inevitably take away its independence. Without judicial autonomy, it is impossible to control a nation with laws. Without the rule of law, a democracy will be dominated by populism. That is why the United States, a typical presidential democracy, has long defended the independence of the judiciary by strictly separating the three branches of government.
The judiciary is also responsible for defending its independence on its own, as guaranteed by the Constitution. If many judges are influenced by outside powers, defending judicial independence will not come easily. Only when a court rules based strictly on the law and its own conscience, ignoring all outside influences, can it defend its independence.