[Viewpoint]A chance to restore trustThe Judicial Ethics Council was launched on Friday. Its duty is straightforward: to establish ethical standards for the legal profession and to supervise irregularities in the judicial system. As a permanent independent instrument, the council has the chance to restore people’s trust in the judicial system by halting such practices as court officials favoring former colleagues in cases and accepting cases brought to lawyers by brokers.
For me, it has been embarrassing when clients have asked me questions about whether I was on good terms with the prosecutor or the judge in charge of the case. However hard I tried to persuade clients that these factors did not affect the proceedings, they wouldn’t accept my explanation. To express my frustration, I wrote the novel, “White Country vs. Black Country,” 15 years ago. I wanted to change the atmosphere by providing a forum for frank discussions about judicial reform. But in the end, only severe criticism came from my colleagues. The lawyers themselves are the first ones who should be blamed for the irregularities and misguided litigation practices of our judicial system.
According to a recent report, the lawyers who previously worked as senior judges handled almost every election law violation litigation case. On the contrary, during a case involving the owner of a conglomerate, it is said top aides to the owner agonized over the selection of their lawyer because the group wanted to choose someone who didn’t have any connections with the panel of judges presiding over the case, to be sure the case was fair. Likewise, the misguided practice of favoring retired predecessors throughout the legal procedures is one of the big causes of the people’s distrust in the judiciary. This practice is so widespread that a common phrase has appeared: “Not guilty with money, guilty with no money.” This practice also makes judicial officials themselves feel ashamed. At the same time, the practice of accepting brokered litigation cases distorts the market and disrupts fair competition. Ultimately, the practice hurts people’s chances to get good legal services at a low price.
Because human beings are egotistical by nature, they naturally tend to do everything possible to protect their physical freedom and fortune.
Especially Koreans, who have lived as homogeneous race for a long time, naturally prefer to try to solve problems through blood ties, regional ties and school connections. That is the difference between Korea and a multi-racial society, which is more focused on legal contracts and rational decisions.
The world is moving toward openness and unification so fast that even a phrase like “global village” sounds stale. Korea has created a road map to open its legal market. Because the National Assembly recently passed the law school act, there will be a large number of lawyers who did not major in law in college. Foreign lawyers, who were educated and practiced law in places with very different traditions and cultures will have to co-exist with Korean lawyers who got their professional training in law school. That will certainly be a challenge for all of us. Since the people who come into contact with the judicial system are diverse, the competition in the legal market will certainly be fierce.
Therefore, old vices such as favoring retired predecessors and accepting brokered litigation cases are no longer appropriate to be left to the ethical standards of judicial officials themselves or the self-purification efforts of the court, prosecution or the bar associations.
The launching of the judicial ethics council was a timely reaction to this and could give systemic support to the establishment of judicial ethics. The council may review materials about lawyers who recently retired from their public posts and others that have been accepting an excessive number of litigation cases. But its major duties will include consultations on laws, a system and a policy to set up judicial ethics, an analysis of the present status of the judicial world and the establishment of countermeasures against violations of ethical code provisions. The council will consist of nine council members, three of whom will be recommended by the director of the court administration office, justice minister and the president of the Korean Bar Association. That will guarantee its independent operation.
*The writer is a lawyer and publicity director at the Korean Bar Association. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Sang-il