[VIEWPOINT]Our looming lawsuit society

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[VIEWPOINT]Our looming lawsuit society

Recently our society has repeatedly turned to the judiciary and the Constitutional Court to resolve major political and social problems. Democratization has strengthened the power of the judiciary and made its influence on society so great that we could call Korea a “judicial country.” The debate on whether to revise or abolish the National Security Law, the impeachment of the president, the deployment of troops to Iraq, the transfer of the administrative capital, the patriarchal family registry system and many other issues that should be solved within the realm of government policies or politics have all been decided by lawsuits in the courts or by the Constitutional Court. Recently, even the commotion surrounding Hwang Woo-suk’s scientific research is awaiting a legal investigation and court rulings. Politics has truly become a judicial matter and society has come to rely on legal judgments.
Things are not all that different in people’s everyday lives. According to statistics from the Public Prosecutors Office, the prosecution dealt with 1,009,411 crime cases in 1985. That number increased to 2,602,171 in 2004. Crime has increa-sed with the progress of democratization, and lawsuits have increased along with crime, turning Korea into a “lawsuit society.” In 2002, 2003 and 2004, the annual number of lawsuits increased steadily from 520,000 to 580,000 and then to 630,000, respectively. Lawsuits are not only surging in social relations, but also in family relations. This means that human relationships and family relationships have changed to a large degree into personal property relationships. The influence of judicial power in everyday life has become excessive, and certainly inhuman.
A judicial country where all public and private matters are regulated by the law and the trend of rampant lawsuits cannot be seen as a good phenomenon. First, it largely reduces the democratic sphere of dialogue and negotiation. Legal judgments always result in a structure of choosing between one and the other ― either a complete win or a complete loss. And the loser finds it hard to become a part of the society again. Therefore, solving things through dialogue and negotiations before bringing them before the court is less costly and more stable for society. Also, unlike legal judgments, negotiation can lead from conflicting opinions to a win-win solution somewhere in the middle. The success of the recently introduced system that provides a term of deliberation before a lawsuit begins is a good example of this. An alternative to turning the nation into a judicial country and a litigious society is promoting dialogue and negotiation, which is in essence the development of democracy.
Second, the “rule of law” is becoming more like the “rule of lawyers.” The specialist knowledge of minority lawyers is more important than the wisdom and common sense of people as a group, making it impossible to do anything without the assistance of a lawyer in almost all areas of politics and life. If the judgment of minority lawyers becomes superior to the opinion of the majority public, the self-regulation, responsibility and skills of civic society become oppressed. The constitutional and legal judgment is not independent “on its own” nor objective. There is also a lack of responsibility. The fact that the same cases often result in different judgments according to a change in time or the number of hearings is evidence that breaks the myth that legal decisions are the highest, the most consistent, responsible and objective ones. One way of curing the disease of a judicial nation is improving the self-regulatory power, responsibility and ability of civic society.
Third, the destruction of human relationships and trust, which are important in human life and politics, can’t be prevented. Human relationships and trust that are destroyed after a legal decision are hard to restore. Losers obey on the surface, but they never submit to the decisions in their hearts. Therefore, human and social trust gets even more seriously damaged after legal hearings. In other words, legal trust does not only fail to overcome democratic trust or human credentials, but also even frequently destroys them. If we try to solve human and social problems with the law, we will endlessly make more laws to bind our society and ultimately make it a lawyer’s heaven. And the spheres of self-regulation, democracy and trust will be reduced.
A society with many laws cannot be called a good society. The minimum role of the law is crime prevention, maintenance of order and protection of human rights. If our society is based on the basic virtues of a civic society ― self-regulation, responsibility and trust ― we will finally be able to have a good democratic country overcoming the problems of becoming a judicial country and a lawsuit society.

* The writer is a visiting professor at the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library and Museum, Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Myung-lim
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