Prudent approach needed
The Supreme Court is considering establishing a new appellate court to ease an overload of appeals that is giving it too much work. The Supreme Court held a public hearing on the idea in September and the Korean Bar Association held another in October. The Supreme Court will likely submit a bill to the National Assembly later this year or early next year.
The fact that the Supreme Court is considering outsourcing some of its cases is understandable. The court reviews over 36,000 appeals a year. One justice must examine 3,000 cases. Even with helpers, the bench cannot give a thorough study to each of them. The overload of appeals stretches resources at the Supreme Court and prevents thorough reviews of the big cases that have ramifications on the country and society.
But whether the establishment of a new court of final appeals is necessary is debatable. Even if it pushes ahead with the plan, the court should be fully aware of some of the problems with the idea.
Overall credibility in the court could be undermined if the new appellate court is established without strengthening the conduct of the lower courts. Mistrust of the lower courts is fuelling the overload of appeals, after all. Recently about 40 percent of ruling in initial trials have been reversed on appeal.
In addition, the performance of the lower courts could actually be weakened if experienced judges are pulled out to join the bench at the new appellate court.
Another appeals court also could mean that our three-tier trial system could turn into one with four tiers. Making the judicial system more convoluted is not in anyone’s interest.
There could be controversies about special connections and treatment, leading to a surge in appeals. The new appellate court also could generate a greater number of senior judiciary officials. There are currently 120 chief judges of vice ministerial level in high courts and 14 justices on the Supreme Court who are ministerial level. Establishing another appellate court would increase senior-level benches. The public sector is already under criticism for having grown too big. The Supreme Court should be fully aware of these concerns before it starts tinkering with a cornerstone of Korea’s democracy.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 18, Page 34