Two vacancies on bench

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Two vacancies on bench

The prolonged gridlock in the National Assembly over the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade pact has caused a delay in filling up vacancies in the Supreme Court, as lawmakers keep postponing a plenary session in fear of violence breaking out over the FTA.

Supreme Court Justices Park Si-hwan and Kim Ji-hyeong retired on Friday ending six-year terms and their seats are empty. But the partisan battle between ruling and opposition lawmakers over the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISD) provision in the trade pact shows no sign of an end. Two plenary sessions have already been canceled in past weeks due to the continuing confrontation.

According to the Supreme Court, two new judges were supposed to start work from today or tomorrow, and the delayed appointments will cause serious problems for the nation’s highest court, which handles about 36,000 cases per year.

Handing down a ruling by all 13 judges for a major case would also be impossible for some time, the court said. In the past six years, there were 95 cases ruled on by the full panel.

“We want the appointments to be approved at the National Assembly as soon as possible,” a Supreme Court official said yesterday.

The Constitutional Court has a similar problem as the ruling and opposition parties continue their fight over the nomination of a new judge.

The Democratic Party proposed that Jo Yong-hwan, a 51-year-old human rights lawyer and a founding member of the liberal nongovernmental group Lawyers for a Democratic Society, be named as the successor to Constitutional Court Justice Cho Dae-hyen, whose term ended in July.

After fierce protest by the ruling Grand National Party, the vacancy in the Constitutional Court’s nine-member bench has remained for months.

By Kim Hee-jin, Ser Myo-ja []
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