Meddling in the judiciary

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Meddling in the judiciary

The judiciary is being shaken by politics. Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun said Wednesday that his party had come to the conclusion it had to propose the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Shin Young-chul. Lee Hoi-chang, the chairman of the Liberty Forward Party, maintains that the one who must step down is not Justice Shin but Justice Park Si-hwan, who sits in the background and provokes this chaotic situation even further.

The Justice Shin scandal has been transformed; it went from being a controversy within the judiciary regarding a judge’s right to rule trials independently to become a political issue. Even left-wing and right-wing civic organizations and political parties are adding pressure and interfering in the case.

An inappropriate remark by Justice Park has politicized the matter. In an interview with a newspaper, he defined it as the judiciary’s fifth crisis. His response to the opinion inside the judiciary - that procedure and regulations must be abided by - was that during the April 19 [1960 popular uprising against Syngman Rhee’s government] and the June 1987 [mass demonstrations for democratization], they were not.

Needless to say, Justice Shin did initiate this controversy with his inappropriate behavior, and he has apologized already. But Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon and other judges in other courts responded inappropriately as well, turning the judiciary into a battleground for outside forces.

The judiciary’s independence can be achieved only when the justices’ status is guaranteed and they are free of pressure from the National Assembly, the administration and other forces in society.

A clause in the Constitution states that judges shall carry out their duties in accordance with the Constitution, the law and their conscience. Here, conscience is defined not by the judge’s own ideology or conviction as an individual but the person’s conscience as a judge.

Textbooks say that when a judge’s conscience as an individual and his conscience as a judge are in conflict, the latter must be followed. Therefore, it is self-contradictory for justices to speak about the independence of the judiciary while simultaneously ignoring procedure, pressuring other justices to step down and holding press conferences to express their political convictions.

The judiciary must resolve this issue from within.

What would happen if the ruling party were to counter the Democratic Party’s impeachment proposal on Justice Shin with a counterproposal to impeach Park Si-hwan? The judiciary would be torn apart. Chief Justice Lee has had a lukewarm stance on the matter and has not provided strong leadership, but he now needs to take responsibility for the current state of affairs.

Many disasters have started with good intentions gone awry. We sincerely hope the judiciary will not go down this path.

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