[EDITORIALS]Leave ‘cleaning’ to the courtsTo make right the historical wrongs of the judiciary, the Supreme Court has started to collect materials on court decisions related to past political and security issues. The Office of Court Administration ordered courts across the country to collect and present the texts of all court decisions made from 1972 to 1989 that were either related to the now-defunct Emergency Measures Law, the National Security Act or the Assembly and Demonstration Act, or which included words like “democracy” or “dictatorship.”
This cleansing of the past by the judiciary was heralded by the inauguration of Lee Yong-hun as chief justice. In his inaugural speech, Mr. Lee admitted that the judiciary had failed to defend its independence from political power and to fulfill its duty as the last bastion of human rights. He also emphasized that, “the court should reflect on whether there were mistakes in its past decisions, and whether justice was violated by outside influence.”
As Mr. Lee pointed out, the judiciary was criticized for turning a deaf ear to the cries of the weak while the nation was under dictatorships and authoritarian rule. In the case of the “People’s Revolutionary Party Rehabilitation Committee,” for instance, an appeal for a judicial review has been submitted to the Supreme Court, because the court let eight of the defendants be put to death on April, 1975, even though the defendents had claimed that they had been tortured during the legal proceedings. The case was typical of what were called “murder trials,” because the execution was carried out within 20 hours of the ruling. It is necessary for the judiciary to have the courage to recognize its past mistakes and apologize to the people. But it should not be a political gesture made to stay in line with the slogan of cleaning the past that has been in vogue with the current administration.
Nowadays, “cleanings of the past” are spreading like the plague. Because this movement is being led by those in power, government ministries have competed to organize such committees. But the judiciary’s cleaning of the past cannot be the same as that of the administration, because the decision of the courts should be made only by judges, without interference and according to the law. If the court’s rulings were tempered by the regimes, there should be frank reflections on why this was so. But they shouldn’t be used as an another excuse to hurt those who left the judiciary, or to get rid of judges. The cleaning of the judiciary’s past should be left to the court.