Court orders ministry to produce informationThe Seoul Administrative Court ruled Monday that the Ministry of Justice should reveal information concerning the universities and law schools attended by its newly hired prosecutors.
Seoul Bar Association, an organization that represents lawyers working in Seoul, filed complaints requesting the disclosure of the information, saying that the new prosecutors largely represent a small elite pool of alumni from the country’s top three law schools and universities - Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University.
“The prosecution is a law enforcement agency and should serve public interests,” the court said in its ruling. “Therefore, the public’s right to know takes precedence over [the Justice Ministry’s] concerns for not properly carrying out the prosecutorial hiring process.”
In September, the lawyers’ association demanded that the ministry reveal details concerning the educational background of the prosecutors who passed the bar exam in 2013. The group also requested the ministry reveal the prosecutors’ scores and rankings on the test. The ministry, however, rejected the request, citing the worries that it would hamper its recruiting process.
The legal battle exposes long-standing tensions between the old national bar exam system that is still in existence and the new law school system, which went into effect in 2009. With the introduction of law schools, the government decided to gradually phase out the old bar exam, with the last test set for 2017. Law school graduates are also required to take a bar exam, although it is less competitive.
The vast majority of members on the bar association took the old national standardized exam and have long disapproved of the law school system, arguing it favors undergraduates from prestigious universities and further fosters elitism in the legal field.
The association said that 85.7 percent of prosecutors who were appointed in 2012 under the new law school system obtained their bachelor’s degrees from one of those three universities, while 64.4 percent of prosecutors under the old system in 2010 came from one of the three.
The court also acknowledged the need to take that predominance more seriously. “There have been concerns over the increasing dominance of those from elite schools in the hiring process for prosecutors,” the court ruled. “Therefore, the request to disclose the data is justifiable.”
But while some agree with the proclaimed cause of leveling the playing field, others say that the wrangling is nothing more than a turf war between veterans, who have vested interests in the old system, and newcomers, with older members seeking to apply pressure on the law school graduates. However, the Seoul Bar Association has denied that argument.
“We are worried about lowering the standard for legal professionals,” said a representative of the association, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But the lawsuit is more about sharing more information about the new system.”
BY PARK EUN-JEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]