Wash away ideological schismsNew chief justice of the Supreme Court Yang Sung-tae has a heavy workload ahead of him as his predecessor, liberal reformist Lee Yong-hoon, failed to meet demands for a balanced mediation of ideological differences. In fact, Lee, at times, fanned conflict and confusion in the justice system. Yang, in his inaugural address, said the courts have left the public frustrated and disappointed. As such, expectations are high that the new chief justice will find a way of restoring public trust.
His first task will be to come up with a way of washing ideological colors out of the judiciary. Yang said the legal system must maintain a sense of consistency and predictability in upholding legal principles rather than veering to the left or right, or favoring liberals or conservatives.
But everything in Korean society seems to boil down to an ideological clash. A project to revise high school history textbooks exemplifies this problem. Members of the publication committee are mired in a dispute over the use of the term “democracy” versus “free democracy.”
Court trials under Lee’s leadership often lost their objectivity. For example, the court acquitted Representative Kang Ki-kap of the liberal Democratic Labor Party and overruled appeals to punish him for his violent protests against a free trade deal with the U.S. at the National Assembly. It also failed to crackdown on the producers of the MBC investigative program “PD Diary,” even after it was confirmed that the TV show had misrepresented information that led to a public scare about mad cow disease and ensuing protests across the nation.
As one justice of the peace even claimed that North Korea cannot be deemed an antistate group, it is no wonder that ordinary citizens are confused about what to think and feel.
Yang has vowed to prove the wisdom and high moral caliber of the court, and he will be tested in November when two progressive justices step down after six years and he is forced to find suitable replacements. Four more judges will complete their terms next July, and Yang will need to show that he can reorganize the bench in a more balanced manner.
Other reforms are also urgently needed. The inexperience and lack of judgment of younger judges has undermined the credibility of the judiciary recently in cases where more senior justices should have been used. As the public is demanding more political neutrality, we hope the new judiciary can fulfil its pledge to uphold a free democratic system.