[EDITORIALS]Chief justice a safe choicePresident Roh Moo-hyun has selected Lee Young-hun, chairman of the government ethics commission, as successor to Chief Supreme Court Justice Choi Jong-young, whose term ends next month.
Because the selection of a new head of the nation’s top court largely coincides with reform of the court, the appointment has been closely watched by the nation. Before the selection, attorneys’ associations and civic groups recommended their own candidates for the post. It may have to do with the fact that nine supreme court justices are scheduled to change by next July.
The groups all wanted the next head of the Supreme Court to share a similar ideology and standards to theirs. Therefore, selecting Mr. Lee, who has been generally supported inside the courts and by both conservatives and progressives, was a safe decision.
There are numerous tasks ahead of the new Supreme Court head. Mr. Lee, as soon as he assumes the post, is scheduled to select three successors to be Supreme Court justices. By July next year, 9 out of 13 Supreme Court judges will have changed. Whenever an appointment is made, it is highly likely that a spilt will emerge as we have seen in recent debates for the naming of justices for the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.
If the head of the Supreme Court is overwhelmed by such debates, our hope of an independent judiciary will dim. The Supreme Court must be filled with judges who can defend the independence of the judiciary without being swayed by the powers that be. Reforming the judicial system by introducing active trials and jury systems is also not easy.
Mr. Lee was one of Mr. Roh’s defense attorneys at last year’s presidential impeachment case. The opposition parties are concerned that as such the separation of power systems may be hindered. An attorney is responsible for the defense of a client, even if the client is a violent criminal. Concerns were raised, however, because of the symbolic meaning of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Political neutrality is that symbol.
The new chief justice must regain the nation’s trust in the judicial system. To this end, it is critical that the judiciary show that the courts are with the people, as Mr. Lee has said.
Maintaining political neutrality through transparent appointments of justices and judicial reform is also vital to this.