[VIEWPOINT]Seize the chance for judicial reformWhile I was giving a lecture on law, I asked the students whether they thought it was true that money and political power swayed court decisions. Three-quarters said yes.
I asked again whether they thought some judges accepted bribes ― not a free dinner, but cash. More than half of my students raised their hands affirmatively. As their professor, I told them, “It is unimaginable for judges to accept bribe money from the people involved in a trial, because even the old vices of accepting food and small amounts of good-will money are fading out.”
However, the arrest of Cho Kwan-haeng, a former High Court judge, revealed that unthinkable corruption was taking place.
According to prosecutors, Mr. Cho accepted bribes of more than tens of millions of won (tens of thousands of dollars). He not only received bribes in connection with the trials, but also accepted money at random.
We can say that the judiciary is now in the most favorable condition that it has ever been in Korea. The outside interference that had troubled the judiciary in the past has disappeared and there is no spying or tailing of judges. With the increase in the number of people in the legal profession, the social status of judges is still climbing. If they do anything wrong, no one is to else blame.
The courts have neither power nor money. The judiciary’s authority stems from the confidence of the people. If people do not have confidence in the judges, they will not accept their decisions. Therefore, judges have to not only be clean, but also look innocent. They must not only be fair, but also be known to be fair and unbiased. They should not only avoid suspicious gestures, but stay away from suspicious places. This is the ethical code a judge should observe. The irregularities involving those in the legal profession are even more surprising because the very foundation of common decency is demolished.
During his examination after his arrest warrant was issued, Mr. Cho said that although he received money and free food, he did not do anything in return for it.
He also said he didn’t accept bribes in connection with specific trials. The judges are in the position of deciding the criteria between a present and a bribe. It is only surprising to hear that a former High Court judge, who should have been punishing the culprits in bribery cases, made such excuses ― making him the culprit, instead.
An incumbent judge said people should refrain from criticizing the whole judiciary by what a fragment does.
If those who stand in the courts have any suspicion toward judges, they will not accept the court decisions. And it is even more difficult to get rid of such suspicion, as long as the judiciary remains an opaque and closed organization.
Therefore, this should not stop at uncovering a few cases of irregularities and punishing those involved. What is more important is working out comprehensive prevention measures so irregularities do not recur. This would move it from being a closed judiciary to an open judiciary and increase the transparency of judicial proceedings.
The solution has almost been provided. The Judiciary Reform Committee has produced a comprehensive plan to root out judicial irregularities. And the Committee for the Promotion of Judicial System Reform has enacted a plan to provide a draft for the government.
If citizens participate in court proceedings as a jury, the temptation to set up a friendly relationship with a judge through a lobbyist will diminish. If a system of giving more weight to court proceedings is introduced, lawyers who do not participate in litigation but sell their names will have no place in the court.
The draft also includes the establishment of a permanent judicial ethics council. Also included is a clause that would change the judiciary by simplifying the judicial profession.
The problem lies in the attitude of the National Assembly, the last barrier to judicial reform. The chairman of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee of the Assembly considers the draft reform bill only as reference material, saying, “The legislative function belongs to the National Assembly.”
Who would dare to deny the fact that the legislature has that right? However, it is not only a right but a responsibility that the people have delegated to the lawmakers, not a power of which they should be boasting. Now that politicians competitively emphasize the politics of people’s livelihoods, the National Assembly should no longer delay the debate on the judiciary for the people.
To the question whether we can trust our judges, the whole judiciary should respond. To the question whether we can make the judiciary of the people, the National Assembly must give an answer. Without restoring the people’s confidence, we cannot make the judiciary develop to an advanced stage. And without an advanced judiciary, we cannot upgrade Korea to an advanced country.
* The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Han In-sub