[OUTLOOK]Let’s close justice revolving doorCriticisms had mounted recently regarding legal fees the chief justice of the Supreme Court received before he assumed his court seat and other related questions, such as whether the cases he served were acceptable in the public eye, how much legal fees he had earned, and whether he correctly reported his income from legal fees and paid proper income taxes.
Citizens demand detailed answers to these questions.
The chief justice has himself promised to reveal the facts. However, at the same time, that hundreds of contract documents have already been destroyed adds to our consternation.
At the moment, it is crucial that we think about the structural problems of the legal institutions.
Above all things, problems regarding prevailing sentiments such as “money exonerates guilt” and “honor to predecessors” concern citizens the most.
These two seemingly separate issues are in reality linked ultimately to one problem.
If, costs notwithstanding, one hires lawyers who have retired from such top legal posts as justice of the Supreme Court or attorney general, it is widely believed by the public that it’s much more possible the court will rule in one’s favor.
According to that belief, former public legal practitioners, from the former justice of the Supreme Court, the justice of the Constitutional Court, attorney general, to the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the chief justice of the Constitutional Court unabashedly start to practice as lawyers upon leaving office.
When money is perceived to rule justice, it must be rightly criticized as the product of ignorance or otherwise denial of the integrity of prosecutors and the jurisprudence; criticisms against legal officials are often wielded by those who do not have at heart and at best ill affect the legal procedures and rules.
To sever their ties with colleagues or supervisors prior to taking a public post however, is by no means easy in our society structured with numerous such ties; it is thus understandable that the former high-post legal officials are able to influence legal procedures at the public prosecution or in the courts.
Even without active lobbying, the fact that a former high legal official has taken on a case so heavily influences the judgment of relevant justices or prosecutors that the case can be prejudiced.
This is not just a possibility but a reality.
How can we overcome this problem?
The key to the solution is for former holders of high positions like justices or prosecutors not to accept cases as private attorneys.
Ideally, they may voluntarily avoid doing so, as is the case in other countries.
In Korea, some previous justices of the Supreme Court receive admiration for making such a decision.
But if all of this is difficult in reality, then as an alternative, it might be worth considering restricting by law the legal practice of retired justices or prosecutors.
Surely it should be presupposed the autonomy of each prosecutor and of each justice can be secured and that their pension and time of service are well protected in the face of systemic problems in the institutions of jurisprudence.
Moreover, comprehensive debate on the scope of proposed restrictions is also needed.
Hope for fair legal procedures and impartial court rules is immensely high in times of intensely conflicting interests.
The dismay from people who feel alienated from justice is understandable when one is put in their situation.
It is sad to hear that everyone can be better off without being fair to those at the margin of justice.
When people are able to observe that the jurisprudence of our society indeed does justice, the authority of juridical institutions shall be restored and society will then be better off.
*The writer is a professor of public law at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Hyung-sung