Judges, lawyers pressure National Assembly to open

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Judges, lawyers pressure National Assembly to open

The nation’s judiciary and lawyers yesterday made unprecedented steps to pressure the National Assembly to begin working as concerns snowballed that its delayed opening will paralyze not only legislative affairs but also the operation of the Supreme Court.

Four of the 13 Supreme Court justices on the bench will complete their terms on July 10, but no progress was seen in the legislature to hold the hearings to confirm the nominations as the National Assembly has failed to open its doors due to political deadlock between the ruling and opposition parties.

The newly elected 300 lawmakers were scheduled to open the legislature on June 5, but the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party have failed to do so as they can’t agree on the formation of key committees.

As the stalemate continues, senior officials of the Supreme Court yesterday met with floor leaders of the ruling and opposition parties to urge their cooperation in filling up the expected vacancies at the highest court.

Supreme Court Justice Cha Han-sung, who is the minister of the national court administration, had two separate meetings with Representative Lee Hahn-koo of the Saenuri Party and Representative Park Jie-won of the DUP and explained their concerns about expected problems that would arise from the four vacancies in the highest court.

Two weeks are left before the outgoing judges finish their terms, but the judiciary is concerned that there is not enough time. To hold the confirmation hearings for the justice nominees, the National Assembly should first elect its speaker as late as today and the speaker should appoint the confirmation hearing committee members.

The requests to approve the nominees were submitted to the legislature on June 15, but no action was taken since then.

The Korean Bar Association also made a never-before-seen move to pressure the National Assembly. The largest lobby group of lawyers said yesterday it will bring lawsuits against the 300 lawmakers to forfeit their salaries because they earned unjust profits without performing their duties.

The association said seeking compensation from the lawmakers for the damages incurred from the delayed opening of the legislature will also be possible.

“After seeking provisional seizures of their salaries, we will recruit up to 10 plaintiffs in each district to file a collective lawsuit against the entire National Assembly,” the association said yesterday in a press release.

The lawyers’ group also said it is conducting a legal review to file an injunction and a constitutional petition to force the National Assembly to open its session. It is also drafting a bill to cut off the lawmakers’ salaries and eventually strip them of their seats if the legislature fails to open after a certain period after the statutory deadline.

The 19th National Assembly’s 300 lawmakers began their term on May 30, and the deadline to open the legislature fell on June 5. The deadline to form the legislative committees was June 7.

The Constitutional Court also renewed its pressure on the legislature yesterday, demanding it fill the vacancy on its panel that was left for nearly a year. The vacancy was created on July 10 of last year, but the National Assembly failed to appoint a successor after it struck down the Democrats’ nominee in February.

As pressure grew from the judiciary, the ruling Saenuri Party said it is mulling over opening a main session alone to elect the National Assembly speaker if the political deadlock with the opposition parties continues. The Saenuri Party has 150 lawmakers in the 300-member legislature.

“Unless we elect the speaker and vice speaker this week, the function of the judiciary will be paralyzed,” Representative Shin Eui-jin told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The Saenuri leadership decided that the confirmation of the Supreme Court justices should be resolved in time, although the decision to open the legislature alone will worsen our relationship with the opposition parties.”

The DUP criticized the Saenuri Party for using the confirmation hearings as an excuse to open the legislature without concluding negotiations on the committee formation. Representative Park Ki-choon, a DUP spokesman, said the Saenuri Party must make concessions and open the legislature after properly forming committees.

The ruling and opposition parties continued to blame each other over the delayed opening of the legislature in a TV debate hosted by the National Election Commission. During the event, broadcast live yesterday, the DUP argued that the Saenuri Party was deliberately stalling the negotiations to protect Representative Park Geun-hye, the ruling party’s presidential front-runner, and President Lee Myung-bak from sensitive political issues in the months ahead of the presidential election.

The DUP demanded the ruling party agree with its demands to hold parliamentary investigations and hearings on some controversial issues such as the alleged power abuse of the government to illegally watch civilians.

The Saenuri Party criticized the DUP for making absurd political attacks, urging its lawmakers to join the legislature as soon as possible.

The Supreme Court is composed of the chief justice and 13 justices, 12 of whom have adjudicatory functions. The 13th justice works as the minister of court administration and does not render judicial opinions.

With the 13 adjudicatory justices, the court organizes three “petty benches,” which have at least four justices each. When a case fails to reach a consensus in a petty bench, it is sent to the “grand bench.” The grand bench is composed of two-thirds of the justices and presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

If four vacancies are created in the Supreme Court, it will inevitably slow down the operation due to the shortage of members to form the petty benches.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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