New order in the court

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New order in the court

As a part of its own judicial reform initiative, the Supreme Court yesterday announced a plan to raise the bar for judicial appointments by filling the benches of courtrooms nationwide only with legal professionals with at least 10 years of experience starting in 2023.

The plan is the second part of a series of reform measures that were announced by the nation’s highest court. The first part was announced on Thursday.

According to the Ministry of Court Administration, which oversees the administrative affairs of the nation’s judiciary, starting in 2023, only law professionals with at least 10 years of experience will be eligible to be appointed as judges. Currently, law professionals with more than five years of experience are eligible to serve.

The new standard was calculated to align with the U.S.-style judicial reform introduced a few years ago by opening law schools nationwide, rather than selecting law professionals strictly through state-run bar exams.

In 2023, the first batch of law school graduates will complete the 10th year of their career and the last batch of those who passed the bar exam will complete their service as military judicial officers. Under the plan, up to 300 law school graduates will be selected annually as trial researchers to assist judges.

In an interim measure, until the new appointment system takes effect in 2023, some of those researchers will be appointed as judges. The current system of appointing law professionals with more than five years of experience as judges will also continue until 2023.

The Supreme Court also decided to completely separate the district courts and appeals courts. Starting in 2023, high court and district court judges will be selected in two discrete systems. The plan is to improve the judges’ competence in the lower courts, the court said.

Law community insiders, however, were skeptical about the effectiveness of the Supreme Court’s plan. They said the elites in the prosecution and law firms with more than 10 years of experience are unlikely to apply to become judges, revealing a concern that the benches may be filled with lesser-talented law professionals.

“To make sure this program works, judges’ verdicts must be evaluated thoroughly to be used as the grounds for reappointments,” said Seo Suk-ho, a lawyer at Kim & Chang and the executive director of legislation at the Korean Bar Association. “To recruit elite lawyers, judges should be given better treatment.”

By Ser Myo-ja, Jeon Jin-bae []

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