Seoul court changes its policy on judging cases

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Seoul court changes its policy on judging cases

In an apparent move to diminish public criticism over allegedly biased verdicts, the nation’s largest court said yesterday it will allow only judges with more than 10 years of experience to sit alone at criminal trials.

Single-judge civil trials will be limited to judges with at least six years of experience, the Seoul Central District Court said.

The court, which has more than 300 judges, announced yesterday that the new guidelines will take effect Monday. The court said it will make the best use of the hardly used existing regulations, which allow high-profile or controversial cases to be tried by a three- or four-judge panel.

According to the court, four such panels have been formed with experienced judges to handle high-profile cases.

Judges will normally be in charge of ordinary criminal cases unless the court instructs them to form a panel to deliberate controversial cases.

The court said it will have more discussions before finalizing all the details of the multiple-judge panels.

With the changed plan, the court will have 16 judges with more than 10 years of experience that can be in charge of single-judge criminal trials other than summary trials and warrant hearings. The number is up from 10 as of last year.

In 2009, only two division head-level senior judges were in charge of the single-judge criminal trials, but the number doubled this year. Four judges with patent attorney licenses were assigned to handle cases involving intellectual property rights, while a judge with a medical degree was named to be in charge of medical disputes.

The court said its judges who are eligible to try a criminal case alone have up to 19 years of experience. The youngest one is 31 years old and the eldest judge is 46.

Under the new guidelines, more senior judges will be in charge of single-judge criminal trials. Last year, the youngest judge who handled criminal cases alone was 27 years old.

By deploying veteran judges to handle criminal cases alone, the Seoul Central District Court apparently seeks to avoid public criticism over controversial verdicts. The nation’s conservatives and prosecutors have criticized several recent district court decisions.

Judge Lee Jin-sung, the new chief of the Seoul Central District Court, has also made clear his intention to reform the court’s operations and regain public trust in the judiciary. In his inaugural speech last week, Lee said that “the judiciary is standing at the center of social turmoil because of some recent verdicts.”

“Judges must not be shaken by unreasonable criticism and pressure, but it is also important to think about why some criticisms are backed by the people, rather than just blaming them for being ignorant,” Lee said.

By Ser Myo-ja []

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