Crisis of confidenceThe Korean public has lost confidence in its courts. Plaintiffs who lost their case under former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae are appealing, saying their rulings were made by politically-minded judges allied with the previous conservative administration.
Those who lost under current Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su are also complaining they have been unfairly judged by a left-leaning bench. Regardless, both sides argue that their verdicts were not made based on impartial legal grounds.
Before recruiting lawyers to defend them, litigants first look at the political leanings of the judges. Are they members of a liberal group like the Society for Research on Our Law or Society for Research on International Human Rights Law? Those who served senior positions in the prosecution and courts are now being shunned.
The court is perceived to have lost its ideological balance under a left-leaning government and chief justice. The bench has never lost so much public trust.
President Moon Jae-in, at a ceremony to celebrate the Supreme Court’s 70th anniversary on Thursday, said the judiciary faces an unprecedented crisis of confidence because of Yang’s abuse of power and attempts to curry favor with the previous administration by handing down decisions favorable to the president. But Moon is not entirely correct.
Yes, Yang tainted the court’s credibility, but the decisive preference for progressive figures on the bench by this current administration has also raised skepticism about fairness in the courtroom. The latest batch of nominees suggests that a background in human rights or progressive causes is crucial to reaching the highest court of the land.
The former and current chief justices should feel responsibility for the court’s crisis of confidence. Yang remains recalcitrant even as his associates are being grilled by prosecutors about their breach of judicial independence.
Kim remains mum despite violent protests from former Ssangyang unionists about a past court ruling. Both cases set poor examples for the chief justice. Without some self-reflection, the courts will never be able to recover public trust.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 14, Page 34