Former leaders scold head of KBAA group of former leaders of the Korean Bar Association (KBA) yesterday jointly criticized its leadership’s political bias in backing the enactment of a special Sewol law, which may be in violation of the constitution.
The law is intended to conclusively handle issues involved in the Sewol ferry disaster, which left more than 300 people dead, including compensation for the victims and punishment for those involved in the nation’s worst maritime accident.
The most contested issue among the ruling and oppositions parties as well as the victims’ families remains whether to grant investigative authority and indictment rights to a fact-finding committee proposed under the bill.
Seven former bar association presidents met with incumbent head We Chul-whan yesterday, during which they conveyed their concern that empowering a fact-finding committee with the authority to investigate and indict suspects under the new law would be in violation of criminal law.
They further expressed concern over the group’s apparent political bias, adding that the KBA as a judiciary group had a responsibility to “protect constitutionality.”
“The KBA needs to maintain political neutrality when it comes to the legislation of the special Sewol law,” they said in the joint statement.
They added that in regard to the establishment of a special investigative committee, a provision urged in the bill, the association’s leadership did not reflect the views of the entire group.
Former KBA presidents, including Kim Doo-hyun, Park Seong-sur, Ham Jung-ho and Shin Young-moo, held an emergency breakfast meeting yesterday morning, then headed straight to the association’s headquarters in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, where the group called on We to “observe the rule of law and represent the positions of all the members of the KBA equally.”
“This is a topic in discussion even in academia,” said Lee Jin-kang, the 44th KBA president, “and the granting of investigation and indictment rights needs an unbiased point of view.”
Following the disaster, the KBA has been active in supporting the victims’ families, most of whom lost teenage children in the sinking.
In May, the KBA signed an agreement to cooperate with a group of the victims’ relatives. Two months later, the association and two committees for the bereaved families also submitted a petition with three million signatures to the National Assembly calling for the passage of a special law demanding further investigation into the sinking.
On Aug. 24, the KBA released a statement signed by 1,043 lawyers, including We, that demanded a “special Sewol committee that will be guaranteed political neutrality and independence and will be granted a strong right to investigation.”
The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) have since been stuck in a stalemate over the terms of the special law. The bereaved families are concerned, in particular, with potential political bias in the investigation process.
However, the KBA responded that the former presidents’ concerns were “a misunderstanding.”
“Requesting a bill granting [a committee] the right to investigate and indict was one proposal made in order to find the facts and take preventative measures, and did not exclude other plans,” the KBA said in a statement.
The KBA, an association of licensed lawyers, was founded in 1952 and is comprised of 14 local bar associations nationwide.
BY SARAH KIM, JEON YOUNG-SUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]