[Viewpoint] Undermining judicial order

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[Viewpoint] Undermining judicial order

Watching the recent situation where junior judicial officers have criticized a senior officer over whether he misused his administrative authority has been quite perplexing.

They believe that Shin Young-chul, a Supreme Court Justice who had sent e-mails to judges in charge of prosecutions over the candlelight vigils last summer when he was the head of a district court, were “an act of interference in judicial independence.”

The legal points of this case are, first, whether the e-mails sent by Justice Shin to judges when he was the head of the Seoul Central District Court come under his judicial administrative authority or they were acts of malfeasance that internally damaged juridical independence.

The second point is whether the lower level court judges can censure, as a group, a senior judicial officer and force his resignation, despite the fact that Justice Shin was appointed by the president as a Supreme Court Justice, an institution of the highest standing under the Constitution, after having been recommended by Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon and going through due legal processes, including a public hearing at the National Assembly.

In relation to whether Justice Shin violated judicial independence, Chief Justice Lee concluded that jurisdiction was damaged by his actions and gave him a severe warning after hearing the opinions of the investigation and research committees of the Supreme Court.

The Chief Justice has already promised that the Court will form a task force to provide a systematic mechanism to prevent further violation of jurisdiction.

And Justice Shin acknowledged that his indiscreet exercise of administrative power had caused trouble for the judiciary and apologized for that.

Therefore, even if there were people who had a negative view about Shin’s appropriateness as a Supreme Court Justice, they should acknowledge that as long as he was appointed through due constitutional and legal procedures, the mistakes he committed as the head of a district court have been sufficiently scrutinized through confirmation hearings and other procedures.

If not, people would reject anyone they are opposed to, even if they were elected legimately or appointed through proper legal procedures.

This would render the law and the system useless.

The meetings of judges from different levels of the courts are originally very practical meetings where judges discuss the division of duties; they are not a place for the judges to criticize the performance of senior judges or their colleagues.

These meetings should be a place to discuss systematic devices to prevent the reoccurrence of juridical violations and to make recommendations.

The judges stress the Constitution and the golden rule when they claim independence of their jurisdiction but ignore the fact that their unlawful group actions paralyze Justice Shin’s ability to execute his duties.

This seems to typify the thinking that “My love affair is a romance, but if others do the same it becomes a scandal.”

Korean society today no longert lives under a dictatorship where human rights are suppressed, or in an age of struggle, with people crying out for democratization.

Nevertheless, populists who ignore legal procedures and force their opinions one-sidedly, are causing social confusion.

The action by some judges, who cause disorder by pushing for the resignation of Justice shin instead of dealing with issues that should be discussed at a judges’ meeting, can easily be evaluated as unconstitutional acts of populists, despite their intention of safeguarding the independence of jurisdiction.

In addition, they should pay attention to the possibility - indeed a high chance - that such actions of judges would be imitated in other areas of society.

Leaders of the judiciary should dauntlessly overcome challenges of political power and populism and strengthen their central position in ensuring societal balance that transcends age and administrations, so that there would never again be a case of juniors overpowering seniors.

I sincerely hope that the incumbent judges would humbly reflect whether there is a country with an equally shameful history of frequent judicial scandals as Korea.

They should reflect on the most important national value that the judges should defend right now.

I also wish they would have the wisdom to comprehensively examine the issue with mature and balanced insight, instead of measuring everything with rigor and dichotomy.

*The writer is an emeritus senior attorney of Bae, Kim and Lee. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim In-sup
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