Tainted justiceThe Ethics Committee of the Supreme Court of Korea officially delivered on Thursday its recommendation that members of the judiciary refrain from seeking employment at law firms involved with current court cases. The committee also recommended that judges not work at a law firm related to a court case they are working on even after the case is closed.
This is an important matter of ethics and morality for legal personnel working for the state.
Some are saying that lawyers are ill-treated, even though they reap the benefits of their former posts long after they retire. Of course, we have no objections to law firms’ recruiting qualified and experienced lawyers given the fierce competition for legal personnel worldwide. We also have no objections to public prosecutors, defenders and judges working for private law firms or entering into any business of their choice after they retire.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court is standing at the forefront of the nationwide debate over judicial ethics. It became the center of the nation’s dissatisfaction with the judicial system after two incidents involving Supreme Court justices, one in which a justice of the high court went straight to a large law firm following his resignation from his public post and another in which a chief justice played golf with an official from a law firm at which he will soon be employed.
In addition, the “rapid strides” made by law firms were the focus of debate during the recent parliamentary inspection of the administration. The inspection found one law firm with a 34.9 percent criminal acquittal rate, with 15 clients from the 43 cases they handled this year found to be innocent. Meanwhile, the acquittal rate for the nation’s top five law firms, which have hired a disproportionately high number of former members of the judiciary, has been 14 percent since 2006. In the same period, the overall acquittal rate for criminal cases is 1.4 percent.
Against this backdrop, there are questions about whether connections and lobbying, not the merits of the cases in question, had a significant influence on the rulings.
Meanwhile, there is a growing number of people complaining that there is one set of laws for the rich and another set for the poor, because a lot of these folks can’t afford to hire a lawyer from a major law firm.
However, unnecessary misunderstandings or suspicions could also lead people to distrust the judiciary, thereby undermining the judicial system as a whole.
In this vein, judicial officers who have played pivotal roles in the judiciary should think about whether it is right for them to start their own practice or work for a law firm.