Supreme Court reform now

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Supreme Court reform now

The Supreme Court’s project to rewrite rules of the highest appellate court has hit a snag. The outgoing legislature has been discussing the matter in a special judiciary committee, but failed to cap the work due to a difference between the legislative and judicial bodies. The reform in the appeals court cannot be delayed because it affects public rights in court trials. The legislature and judiciary are neglecting their duty to the public by sidestepping the issue. It should be one of the top priorities of the incoming 19th Assembly.

According to the Supreme Court’s white book, appeals registered with the highest court in 2010 reached 36,418 cases, nearly doubling the 18,960 cases 10 years ago. That means at least eight cases a day on average have appeared before the 12 justices, excluding the chief justice and the minister of Court Administration, who do not participate in rendering judicial opinions.

They can hardly be expected to closely examine cases one by one. The court employs discretionary reviews to filter types of cases and dismiss or put off appeals on non-criminal cases in order to focus resources on more substantial ones. But the discretion has been criticized for limiting litigation rights with the three-trial system. Litigators and lawyers have been complaining of trial delays in their appeals for many years without logical explanation.

Reformers demanded that the number of justices be increased to deal with more cases in the Supreme Court. The legislative committee suggests the judiciary body of the highest court be increased to 20 members while the lawyers’ association proposes an increase to 50. But a simple enlargement of the bench won’t solve the problem of dealing with the rapid growth of appeal cases. The Supreme Court argues that settlement of cases that require a majority consensus from the bench could be more difficult if the head count of justices is increased.

What could be more effective is a strengthened review in lower courts. Cases won’t have to reach the highest court if they have been extensively examined in lower tribunals. Once the function and role of intermediate tribunals are strengthened, the reform work could be easier. The Supreme Court should review cases of the highest urgency and significance and leave other appeal reviews to the high courts.

The reform of the highest appellate court should be focused on underscoring the role of the Supreme Court in directing society. We expect a timely solution from the 19th Assembly.
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