[EDITORIALS]Judicial tamperingLee Yong-hun, the Supreme Court chief justice, recently stressed the need for stricter sentences for white-collar crimes to several judicial officers, citing one recent case as an example.
Mr. Lee reportedly told 10 newly promoted high-court senior judges that the ruling in the Doosan slush fund case, which was an opportunity for the court to recover the public’s trust, was unsatisfactory.
In the Doosan trial, the brothers that own Doosan Group were indicted for embezzling 28 billion won worth of the company’s money, and received suspended sentences.
It is very unusual for the head of the judiciary to criticize the handling of a specific case. As Mr. Lee mentioned, when the country was under authoritarian governments, there were numerous court rulings that betrayed the public’s expectations. Additionally, it is true that questions about the fairness of trials were frequently asked, because the courts continuously favored those in power and were unfavorable to those who were weak.
It had come to a point where even phrases like, “If you have money, you are innocent, but if you have no money, you are guilty,” emerged. Therefore, the judicial branch needs time to reflect on its past wrongdoings.
But it is not appropriate to infringe on a judge’s rights in a trial. Mr. Lee’s comment was not proper because the Doosan case is still under appeal.
It is in question whether the other judges in higher courts will make their own free judgments on the case when the thoughts of the chief justice have been openly revealed.
The Korean Constitution states that a judge should only make a judgment based on the law and his own conscience.
Mr. Lee’s comment on the fairness of the handling of the case, while comparing it to a man stealing things worth 100 million won ($102,800) and a man embezzling 20-30 billion won also went too far.
A judge’s discretionary rights will be violated and another debate on the fairness of a trial will be raised if a man’s punishment is determined based on the embezzled amount without considering the intention, the means and the relationship with the victim.
The chief justice should refrain from alluding to a case that is still under review. The rights of a judge in a courtroom should not be violated by anyone, neither by those inside the judiciary nor by the powerful who are outside the judiciary.
This is the core of an independent court system.