Critics call for a diverse court

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Critics call for a diverse court

Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon has recommended to President Lee Myung-bak four candidates to become new Supreme Court justices, but critics argue that the recommendations lack in diversity because all four are men and graduated from Seoul National University School of Law.

Of the sitting 14 Supreme Court justices, only one graduated from a university other than the nation’s top university - Seoul National.

Twelve of the 14 justices are career judges, and one is a former prosecutor and the other a former law professor, according to the Supreme Court.

“Most of the Supreme Court justices are men between 50 and 60-years-old who spent most of their lives reading lawsuits and handing out verdicts,” an attorney said. “They have such similar backgrounds and that makes me feel nauseous.”

Justice Chon Soo-an is now the only female judge on the court after another woman on the court, Justice Kim Young-ran, retired last September.

Kim became the first woman to sit on the highest court in 2004 and was appointed to reflect critics’ demands to ensure more diversity on the bench.

They raised concerns that Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon’s decision to recommend four new judges of remarkably similar background and experience to replace outgoing justices is going against the current of the times.

Critics say that this year could be the best opportunity to appoint talented people with different backgrounds, other than career judges with a diploma from Seoul National University School of Law, because five Supreme Court justices, including the Chief Justice and three justices at the Constitutional Court, are set to retire.

All nine of the justices on the Constitutional Court are men who graduated from Seoul National University School of Law and seven of them are career judges.

An official at the Supreme Court said no female or non-SNU graduate was recommended to become a Supreme Court justice because the court failed to find a qualified candidate at the age most justices get called to the court.

Lim Ji-bong, a law professor at Sogang University, said justices fail to reflect opinions from different classes and “hand verdicts with negligible difference,” because they share similar backgrounds.

Lim said justices should be more open to outside legal experts taking a Supreme Court justice post.

“If Supreme Court justices continue to be appointed based on their seniority, the court’s rulings will hardly earn the trust and support from the people,” Lim said.


By Kwon Seok-chun [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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