“Judges shall rule independently according to their conscience and in conformity with the Constitution and laws,” states Article 103 of the national Constitution. Everyone is aware of the importance of justice in holding a court and ruling a nation in the name of democracy. Yang Seung-tae, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, emphasized in his retirement speech that judicial independence will collapse if the unjust influence of political forces were to be allowed to intervene with the court’s actions. However, the pure realm of justice has been recently invaded by the ones who tried to abuse their power; and surprisingly, Yang turned out to be standing in the middle of the suspects.
In February 2017, Judge Lee Tan-hee was told by the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to manage the list of judges’ trends including political orientations and past activities. He believed working on such project was wrong and was against his conscience; thus he decided to resign from his job. This incident first raised the suspicion of the blacklist that secretly investigates judges. Since then, the power abuse scandal has come out into the open, revealing its truths such as the OCA’s effort to be involved in particular trials and under-the-table dealings between the judiciary and the administration.
The disclosures of the power abuse scandal are pouring in even at the moment. The prosecution is unraveling further circumstantial evidence related to the issue every day, indicating the severity of the incident. While one could argue that such a happening is not very different from other endless incidents that will forever continue to plague the Korean society, it should be pointed out that this scandal may lead to the great collapse of the public’s faith in the judiciary.
More serious problems rise to the surface when it comes to the countermeasures taken to deal with the crime. Despite the prosecution’s verification of the former Supreme Court’s wrongdoings, the court has been rejecting the prosecution’s confiscation warrant for the suspects. Furthermore, the court even dismissed the arrest warrant for Yu Hae-yong, former Chief Judicial Researcher of the Supreme Court. Such behaviors of the court contradict the pledge which Kim Myung-soo, the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, had made to actively cooperate with the prosecution’s action.
Chief Justice Kim announced that the court will be abolishing the OCA, which had been managing the judiciary blacklist. However, what is more important than trying to erase and cover up the traces of the past is getting ready for the upcoming future. Therefore, in order to solve the problem at hand, the court must reveal the truth on its own, to live up to its name. This is the only way for the court to restore its trust among people so that it can thoroughly follow the principle of separation of powers.
Professor Kim Seon-taek (School of Law) stated that the government should reform the system for training legal professionals because the power abuse scandal shows that some judges work not for establishing justice but for their own good. Such an afflicted status quo of the Korean judiciary throws a sidelight on the fact that the law should be exercised within the boundaries of the judiciary, not in other fields that are related to other interests. It is time to reconsider the operation of the nation’s court system, the legal profession training system as well as the court’s ability to self-rule before it is too late.