Restoring trust in the courtsThe prosecution has finally indicted former Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae on charges of abuse of power and colluding with the Park Geun-hye administration to deliver court rulings in its favor. It is unprecedented in Korea’s history that a former head of the Supreme Court will be tried on criminal charges for his role as guardian of the judiciary. Yang’s trials carry great significance, as they offer a priceless opportunity to restore long-lost public trust in the judiciary.
On Monday, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted Yang on charges of abusing his power as the head of the Supreme Court. Two other former justices — Park Byoung-dae and Ko Young-han, a former minister of the National Court Administration (NCA) — were indicted on similar charges. Yang will be detained during his trial, whereas the other two will not. According to the arraignments, Yang was indicted on 47 criminal counts, including his alleged intervention in civil suits over compensation by Japanese companies for Korean workers forced into labor during World War II.
The former chief justice is also suspected of having wielded his influence as head of the judiciary by ordering illegal inspections of hostile judges through the NCA — an administrative arm of the judiciary — and creating a slush fund for unknown reasons. We are utterly depressed to see one of our former chief justices stand trial on such shameful charges.
At the same time, however, the former chief justice has consistently denied those charges during the prosecution’s interrogations, which spells a fierce legal battle over facts in trial hearings down the road. Prosecutors are in a position to convince judges of the deepening suspicions through the evidence they have gathered so far and the statements made by the defendant. What matters most here is the fairness of the trials. The court should not give preferential treatment to Yang just because he is a former chief justice. But the court also must not disadvantage him simply because he served as chief justice. Whatever the case, the court should not forejudge the cases or proceed with them too fast as the public is watching very carefully.
Above all, political circles must refrain from playing political games over the trials of the former chief justice and his former associates. The extraordinary trials can not afford any noise from outside, particularly given the growing suspicion of influence-peddling by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. They must watch the trials with sincere self-reflection.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 12, Page 30