Judge-ment dayAt an inauguration ceremony for newly appointed judges earlier this week, Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon essentially questioned the decision-making process in the courtroom.
He added that a judge’s conscience should incorporate fairness and rationality, not personal dogma.
It appears that Lee has presented a “standard” for the judiciary in an environment where biased judgments are becoming social issues.
It is a timely message of guidance to new judges who are now getting their feet wet in the legal world as well as a call for self-reflection among older judges. The current crisis involving the judiciary centers around the quality of the judges deciding cases. Lee said as much at the inauguration ceremony, as he essentially questioned the abilities, expertise and attitudes of the judiciary.
This issue is the root of some recent rulings that are difficult to understand, much less justify.
The problem occurs when a judge confuses his or her conscience with ideology and beliefs.
Lee suggested that judges should ask for advice from experts in unfamiliar areas.
In other words, they should, say, ask a doctor for help in understanding mad cow disease rather than simply pretend to know all about it. Lee also said judges should become more familiar with humility.
He said all the right words. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court chief justice should also take responsibility for the current situation, as some observers have suggested.
When people questioned the acquittal of lawmaker Kang Ki-kab - who was arrested for violence in the National Assembly - Lee simply said, “We will guard the independence of the judiciary.”
Some people believe that this statement essentially provided backing for judges to make controversial rulings in later cases involving reports on mad cow disease, the Korean Teachers & Education Workers’ Union and North Korean partisans.
In any case, it is meaningful that the Supreme Court recently demanded that judges attempt to revive trust and engage in self-reflection.
The issue now is whether the courts absorb this message. The Seoul Central Court is taking steps in the right direction by adding independent veteran judges, among other moves.
However, this must become a priority across the judiciary system if we are to eradicate unusual and unfair judgments. All eyes are now on Lee as he tries to bring about sorely needed changes.