Judiciary needs responsibility

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Judiciary needs responsibility

“I will defend the independence of the judiciary branch,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon said. His comment was blunt, throwing down the gauntlet to conservative political factions enraged by rulings on political and social issues by liberal judges.

The ruling party acted promptly, launching a special committee to revise the judiciary system this week. This rash move by the political sector without giving the judiciary a chance to regain public trust is splitting the country’s two main government branches. The initial fault lies with the judiciary for handing down rulings that disagree with general public understanding of the law and common sense. Moreover, the verdicts show clear political and ideological bias. The bedrock of democracy is the civil law rooted in fairness and justice. The judiciary also should take a stand on judges’ slanted sentencing and on private groups of judges.

In one case, a court acquitted producers of “PD Diary,” an investigative news program of Munwha Broadcasting Corporation, on charges of defaming the government and obstructing imports of U.S. beef. The Seoul Central District Court ruled that the reports that sent the entire population into a frenzied scare over American beef by raising suspicion about mad cow disease for months may have been “overstated, but not entirely without grounds.”

The ruling is bewildering and disconcerting. People were led to believe they may catch mad cow disease by eating U.S. beef. The press must be held accountable. The Korea Communication Standard Commission had ordered the news program to apologize to viewers for its misguided reporting. The Seoul High Court last year had ordered the network to correct the falsified report. But a district court reversed the ruling, baffling the public on what’s right and wrong.

A couple of days earlier, a Jeonju District Court acquitted members of the North Jeolla branch of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union for protesting against government policies despite their civil service status. The Supreme Court six years ago had ruled such a teachers’ protest as “evident political activity.” But the local court placed heavier weight on “freedom of expression.”

The people are obviously concerned about the series of incomprehensible rulings. We therefore call for measures from the judiciary to ease public concerns. The judiciary’s authority stands on its verdicts. The sovereignty of the judiciary is guaranteed not for the judges but for the people.
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